We recently found ourselves driving to lovely Southern California for a fun few days before the end of Indian Summer. Our first stop from the San Francisco Bay Area was to be Santa Barbara (or Saint Babs, as we've come to affectionately call it), so we decided to travel the longer but more scenic highway called 101. That's "one-oh!-one" for those of you who aren't familiar with California.
While the 101 is much prettier and scenic than the faster Highway 5 (that's pronounced "five", by the way), it's still about six hours and for us, that's about five hours more than we care to spend in an automobile. Thankfully, our zippy convertible is equipped with a compact disc player. The nice weather, open-air mode of transportation and the promise of all those attractive Angelinos in minimal clothing made us think that Brazilian music would be appropriate. We grabbed a huge box and took literally all the Brazilian music we owned and headed down the highway.
Of course we knew this, but Brazil is just great. The big happy Samba music works in doses. The Samba-Reggae from the northern Bahia region is almost always infectious and a wee bit rawer. The Bossa Nova just makes one feel sexy, thin and tan. It can't be helped. Occasionally Brazilian music suffers from an unbearable sense of happiness which can be confusing emotion while cruising down an American highway. It probably works better at Carnival.
What we love most about Brazilian music is the hesitation in the rhythm. There's always a hint of a beat that really isn't there and this causes the body to convulse to the drummer's wish. If this doesn't happen to you, we suggest that you listen to one of our picks on the next sunny day and turn the volume up very loud indeed.
What follows is a list of the CDs that were particularly pleasing on this long drive. This is not a "Best of Brazil" list (an impossible feat!), but rather six titles we found particularly pleasing and want you to know about.
Normally we dislike compilations, but Brasil 2mil is a near perfect collection of contemporary Brazilian pop. We enjoyed it on our drive down the coast, it's true, but we've actually been listening to it all summer and we believe that tropical sounds emitting from this compact disc actually send out tan-enhancing rays. Look lovely, be lovely with Brasil 2mil!
Many of us first heard the intoxicating sounds of Bahia in general, and Carlinhos Brown in particular, thanks to this disc. This Bill Laswell production is seminal and edgy, much like Wayne Shorter's Native Dancer was 20-odd years earlier. Shorter appears on this disc, along with Brown, the famous drum school Olodum and Herbie Hancock. Every collection should include this album.
This is classic Samba with a distinctly 1960s feel. There are Bossa Nova influences but it's almost as if this is where Samba would have gone if Bossa Nova hadn't come along.
When Barbra Streisand was a guest on the Rosie O'Donnell talk show, O'Donnell was doing her usual loudmouth schtick and Streisand gently but firmly told her, "Less is more!" We think this is one of the defining moments in popular history: Barbra Streisand telling anyone that less is more.
We're generally of the opinion that "more is more" but in the right hands, like those of Bossa Nova great Joâo Gilberto, a minimal pared down Samba can be something divine. This is Bossa Nova at its best and it's also out of print. How can this be? We're sure it won't stay that way for long as these 38 short tracks are the foundation of this genre. Much less camp and twice as pleasing as wife Astrud's recordings, this is the real thing.
Marina Lima is very popular with the kids and sings a very Brazilian version of Pop music. She is also far too pretty for anyone with this much talent has a right to be. We must assume she has an unnaturally bad body odor because it's just not fair. Her music is unmistakably Brazilian, yet it's not Samba and there's little if any percussion. Her sweet, slightly stonato voice is compelling and her choice of songs is always intelligent.
Marisa Monte is probably the perfect mix of modern Brazilian pop and tradition. There's nothing nostalgic about her and yet it's clear she has a deep understanding and respect for her roots. When Rose & Charcoal came out, we remember being disappointed but now, six years later, we think it's almost perfect.
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