Saturday, May 13, 2006

Marisa Monte, Universo Ao Meu Redor and Infinito Particular, Metro Blue/EMI (9/12/06 release date)

After reading the press release regarding these two recordings, I thought: Too bad I'm not on Metro Blue's mailing list as I'd love to give 'em a listen. Well, lo and behold, UPS delivered both albums just yesterday. I guess dreams really can come true!

So, what was it about Metro Blue's announcement that caught my attention? To start, I'm interested in MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira), but the most significant morsel of information was that the platinum-selling Monte, with whom I was previously unfamiliar, has worked with most of the leading lights in the Brazilian diaspora, including Seu Jorge and, especially, New York-based guitarist Arto Lindsay (DNA, the Lounge Lizards, the Ambitious Lovers). As I quite like their work, I was anxious to hear what their collaborator sounds like. Further, Monte has also worked with such fascinating figures as Laurie Anderson, Gilberto Gil, and Naná Vasconcelos.


First up is Monte's sixth full-length, Universo Ao Meu Redor ("The Universe Around Me"), her tribute to the samba. It was co-produced by Mario Caldato (the Beastie Boys). The title track is a slinky number decorated with whistling in a distinctively 1960s style (visions of Jacques Demy, François Truffaut, and Catherine Deneuve are dancing in my head). Guilherme Calicchio's whistle returns in "Quatro Paredes" ("Four Walls"). On this piece, I was reminded more of Geoff and Maria Muldaur's version of "Brazil" (Ary Barroso/Bob Russell), now most closely associated with the Terry Gilliam film of the same name, but originally the highlight of their overlooked covers collection, Pottery Pie.

"O Bonde Do Dom" (roughly translated as "The Beat of the Drum") plays Monte's wistful voice off against a jaunty beat and Jaques Morelenbaum's mournful cello. There's a nice push and pull between the joy in her light, yet precise phrasing and the sadness of his strings. In "Lágrimas e Tormentos" ("Tears and Torments"), Cristina Braga (harp) engages in a pas de deux with Cézar Mendes (acoustic guitar) as Monte watches, as it were, from the wings. Then in "Statue of Liberty," she engages in a "deux" herself, this time with co-writer and ardent Brazilophile David Byrne. The only English-language track on the CD, it's over far too quickly at 1:13 minutes. (Guess she really is a fan of the quick-draw Muldaurs.)

It might sound as if Monte is living in the past, but that isn't quite right. Both "Statue" and "Satisfeito" ("Satisfied") feature Fernandinho Beat Box on the--you got it--beat box. And, after all, the album was produced by the man behind the boards for both Check Your Head (1992) and Ill Communication (1994), even if the trip-hoppier tracks conjure up more '70s-era Stevie Wonder than, say, '00s-era Danger Mouse. Still, the subtle electronic touches here and there tether the record to the present, no matter how tenuously.

A layer of "joy" floating atop a layer of "sadness" could, I suppose, describe the entire enterprise. While it's nothing new to describe a Brazilian release/artist as "summery" or "perfect for summer listening," I just can't resist. There's nothing cold, clinical, or calculated about Monte's celebration of the samba. The vibe is warm and inviting; relaxed, but never rambling or self-indulgent.

Endnote: End part one of two. Translations from Babel Fish. If anyone can provide more exact interpretations, please give a shout. According to the AMG, "Brazil" was originally called "Aquarela Do Brazil" (1939), is featured in Disney's Saludos Amigos (1942), and is one of the 20 most recorded songs of all time. Next up: Infinito Particular. All images from the AMG.

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