It’s a vast country where a lot of music is made, so the laws of probability dictate that a healthy portion of CDs coming into my possession are from Brazil. Are Brazil’s musical riches inexhaustible? I hope so. The African-rooted rhythms of samba and bossa nova (to name but two of the many styles Brazil has given the world) are timeless whether straight up or fused, and any time is a good time to give them a spin.
The Putumayo label’s various-artist discs are always a bit of a grab bag and more often than not have enough goods to make them recommendable. Their Women of Brazil compilation (Putumayo, 2013) is a dandy, a fairly short but awfully sweet sampling of gals who are mainly in the emergent stages of their careers. Hints of contemporary production notwithstanding, most of the selections here are acoustic, classic-sounding stuff that oozes with the kind of sensuality and swaying feel you’d expect. Nossa Alma Canta gets things flowing with the self-explanatory “Bossanova” and from there the album is one subtle spine tingle after another, with highlights including Flavia Coelho’s whispery “A Foto,” Luisa Maita’s electronica-caressed “Mangue E Fogo” and the slow build of “Boi De Haxixe” by Miriam Maria.
A beaming Paula Santoro gazes from the cover of her latest, Mar do Meu Mundo (Boranda, 2013) and the music within is likewise reason to smile, with its jazz-laced meditations and recurring lyrical references to the sea. The outer melancholy of the songs is matched by the quiet urgency of their inner rhythms, and both sides of the equation are enriched by Santoro’s smoky, emotive singing, which fares just as beautifully on the minimal piano-and-voice “Flor” as it does in the midst of inventive arrangements like that of “Mar Deserto,” which features backing by the always-intriguing Brazilian band Uakti. She’s a new artist to me, and Paula Santoro is certainly one to sit up and take notice of. Once you’re done sitting up, though, you’ll want to lay back and let her exquisite music get under your skin.
Equally skilled as a vocalist and acoustic guitarist, Ceumar (who, like Paula Santoro, hails from the state of Minais Gerais) brings us Dindinha (ARC Music, 2012). Her influences go a bit farther and wider, with a distinct Cape Verdean air on the title track and hints of the surrealism that fueled the MPB movement elsewhere. Songs of love, life and celebration abound, propelled by folkloric rhythms and arrangements that include fine instrumental work by supporting players on strings, clarinet, accordion, percussion and more. Warm, inviting and full of passion, Dindinha is an album that no lover of Brazilian music should miss out on.
For a more modern take, check out the band Bossacucanova, who mark their first decade and a half with Our Kind of Bossa (Six Degrees, 2014). The title makes it clear that they’re keen on doing it their way, but that doesn’t mean ditching the kind of grooves that characterize samba and bossa nova. Rather, those grooves are enhanced by quirky electronic beats that energize the more organic elements of the music without dominating, leaving ample space for esteemed guests like singer Maria Rita and recently deceased guitarist Oscar Castro Neves to bring extra class and spark to the proceedings. I particularly like the way Emilio Santiago’s suave vocals compliment the string-laden smoothness of “E Preciso Perdoar,” the reedy sounds that season the sharply honed beat of “To Voltando” and the reconfiguring of compositions by Chico Buarque and Jorge Ben (“Deixa A Menina” and “Waldomiro Pena” respectively). Traditionalists wary of electronica need not fear: this release strikes the right balance between older and newer approaches and sounds great doing it.