The electronica market is fairly glutted with attempts at Brazilian soul, and almost all of them are as skimpy as an Ipanema bikini. Relying on a scrap of melodics and a thin rhythmic string, these endeavors are usually way too polite to do justice to the exuberant complexity of real Brazilian music. But the Netherlands-based trio Zuco 103 -- composed of Dutchman Stefan Kruger, Germany's Stefan Schmid, and Brazilian-bred Lilian Vieira and augmented by dozens of guest instrumentalists -- escapes this bind by keeping its music open to contradiction. Zuco 103's second album, Tales of High Fever, is as unpredictable as Brazil's yo-yoing economy, and just as global.
Fever swims in the spirit of tropicalismo, the experimental style that flourished in the late '60s at the hands of artists like Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes and Tom Zé. Like its forebears, Zuco 103 starts with the classic bossa nova foundation and then folds deviant strains into the mix. Jazz, funk and the propulsive urgency of house music dominate, but even sounds as disparate as acid rock and hillbilly twang can be heard snaking through the undulating rhythms.
The album opens with "Treasure," a tune awash in aquamarine Rhodes keyboard stabs and a slow disco twirl. The next track, "Peregrino," churns with chicken-scratch guitar, shuffling snare drums, and Vieira's staccato, multitracked chattering, which sounds like high-pitched gossip echoing down a narrow residential street. "Curso de Reclamação -- Lição 1" breaks with tradition, opening with a grinding blues riff and violin reel before sashaying into a more characteristically Latin swing.
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Kruger and Schmid also take part in numerous European nu-jazz projects, and traces of that style abound here, from the syncopated drum programming to the wobbly bass lines. "Tão Lonely" even soaks up some of the off-kilter beats of the English dance-pop known as two-step, but instead of submitting to the constraints of the form, Zuco 103 manages to bend the frame to its own designs. This sense of freedom marks every song on Fever, so that the album comes off as a jubilant celebration rather than a genre study. Such joy is refreshing, given the troubling economic news out of Brazil these days: It's a reminder that creativity is a currency far more durable than the dollar, the euro, or the Brazilian real.