[15 September 2008]
If the jump-start rush of the TV series was anything to go by, you might have expected the music to this spin-off/City of God follow-up to be as as scattershot as the gunfire. Antonio Pinto, though, as he does with most every project he works on, cuts through the surface flash to soundtrack the gut feeling. Nor does he leave the interpretation of the music to other musicians. While ably assisted by the likes of Rappin’ Hood, Céu and City of God collaborator Ed Côrtes, he performs the lion’s share of his own compositions off his own back. That kind of multi-instrumental dexterity is admirable enough, but it’s in the way he evokes both the golden age and resurgent present of Rio in a cue like “O Polígamo”, the way he segues to the flip-side heaviness of “A Fuga” with all the disorientation of a good trip gone bad, that makes him, alongside the ubiquitous Gustavo Santoalalla, one of the most talented Latin American film composers working right now.
Inevitably, he’s not completely impervious to the influence of Santoalalla’s Oscar-sweeping atmospherics, and makes at least an intermittent return to the “epic, emotional music” he mentioned holding back from in his sleevenotes to City of God. That much is obvious in both the Babel-esque “Agora Adultos”, and a brief piece for seven-stringed guitar. But again it’s Pinto’s range that’s impressive. He’s as adept at generating energy with the tinder-dry crack of a tamborim or snare, as he is at divining the poignancy, Central Station-style, in a conventional string part. And while the acoutrements of old time samba – percussion, cavaquinho acoustic guitar - are still his most effective tools, excursions into darker, dubbier territory are always interesting. “A Transa”, from City of God, remains perhaps his most absorbing two minutes.
For all its emotional punch and great stand-alone cues, though, the sheer expansiveness of this score precludes any real development of its individual ideas, even if there’s less of a time-shift in the film’s plot and consequently less cultural tides to swim. But then, as the static-hopping likes of “Radio” suggest, maybe that’s the point. Even when Pinto sounds like he’s brainstorming, there’s still a high-pressure pulse holding it steady.
The man’s comparatively shorter score for City of Men was likewise slightly less diffuse, its soundtrack programming - alongside a raft of brilliant, lesser heard Brazilian samba and rock source tracks - making for what still stands as one of the most exhilerating, iconic OSTs of the decade, a 21st century equivalent to Black Orpheus. The soundtrack to City of God, by contrast, at least in its European-distributed form, affords the bulk of the album to Pinto and whacks on a trio of cuts from bodog-signed veterans, Wu-Tang Clan. The fact of Rio’s favelas drip-feeding Brazilian hip hop apart, you might be entitled to wonder why. No matter. With RZA having long proved himself a film score genius – his work on Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai arguably made for the soundtrack of the ‘90s – you can almost see the logic behind it. The George Clinton-howling, Morricone-referencing thud of “Wolves” segues unfathomably well from the plaintive strains of the film’s Céu-sung title theme. More big names – Erykah Badu, John Frusciante – are paraded for a finale sure to needle purists, another sorry tale of ghetto misadventure brazenly hitching itself to George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. It’s not particularly clever and it definitely isn’t Brazilian. But don’t let that put you off what overall stands, if not as the landmark its predecessor was, as at least another weighty addition to Pinto’s portfolio.