Big Ups to Bahia
Can it be? The dog days of summer have already sped past? The sun isn’t up quite as long. Days are still hot, but the occasional cooler breeze creeps in to cut through the muck. Fall colors flirt from the comfort of air-conditioned display windows. In all, the dregs of the mugtastic are making their final pass, leaving us with one last chance to spin those discs that perfectly synthesize the season’s summery moments.
Arriving fashionably late is a wunderkind with a familiar take on the time. Christened Luciano Nakata Albuquerque, the Brazilian artist known publicly by his affectionate nickname, Curumin (“little boy”), invokes the season’s requisite head nods, dipping hips, and cherry-licked lips by drawing from his reputable resume. A multi-instrumentalist, singer, and composer, he went pro as a wee teen, performed with the funk-samba ensemble Zomba (from whence chocolicious Paula Lima also emerged), and backed established artists like pop composer Arnaldo Antunes and actress-singer Andrea Marquee. His inclusion in the substantial roster expansion of Quannum Records, a label that has until now kept an insular focus on its founding artists, was surprising given his obscurity outside of his homeland. However, being no stranger to the art of traditionally and nontraditionally moving butts, Curumin demonstrates his faculty for the fairest of the seasons on his debut solo album Achados e Perdidos.
Translated as “Found and Lost”, Curumin’s insouciantly titled record is a relaxed recollection of music influences. Similar to a digger, he sifts through his memory’s dusty bins for forgotten beats, the perfect one just around the corner. He filters his finds, the funk and soul of ‘70s America, and writes, sings and plays through a hash haze of São Paulo street music, all set to a modern (well, at least in the ‘90s G-Son sense) beat. The low riding boom bap of “Guerreiro” and “Tudo Bem Malandro” win with instant ass appeal. Like Tommy Guerrero‘s homegrown funk, these skim rollers waft breezy melodies that trigger summer synapses.
Rhythms on the other hand are all heavy cream; fat, tweeting bass synths play off lithe guitar and cavaquinho runs, slow riding each cut down the boulevard. While each track dips into both domestic aesthetics and imported instrumentation, “Samba Japa” digs deeper: samba soul is stretched by a Juno behaving like a drunk cuíca over the Japanese talk show samples and a lazy barbecue beat. “Vem Menina” similarly harkens Jorge Ben-type melodies through the kicks and claps of the present while Brazilian MC Lino Crizz rides out a dubbed out version platter. “Cadê o Mocotó? (Essa Coisa)” seals Curumin’s connection to his forebears by featuring Nereu Gargalo of Trio Mocotó, one of the founders of samba soul.
As Nereu rasps out a delicious rap, a climaxing break charges right into head bop funk; it is a freeform dialogue that finds both then and now agreeing on the timeless: thighs! It is this active bridge building that forms the welcome charm of Achados e Perdidos. And pick for pick, Curumin frequently upturns a slight nugget with just the right amount of bounce per ounce.
However, as a collection Achados e Perdidos is hardly a top-shelf trove. In turning to music’s past for inspiration, Curumin comes up short when he emulates instead of creates. “Sertão Urbano” steps to heard-it-before de Clive-Lowe nu-soul with amorphous bass and whining Rhodes notes, all the while hitting every note in the smooth jazz book, right down to the Benson hospitality on the first eight. The lack of personality in the track makes it a trite paper plate, replaceable and insubstantial for holding Antunes’ robust baritone incantations.
Such missteps are unfortunately most prominent when Curumin attempts to move his music forward: dated and/or overused effects pollute a cut here, unnecessary gloss wash out another cut there. “Olhando de uma Janela, no Centro da Cidade” rockets up to the tune of space violins, but breaks apart and scatters the debris of Ebow guitars and Luaka Bopisms back to the earth’s surface. More disappointing is the constant talk box that accosts his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothing”, an otherwise bluesy and burning cut built around a downward spiraling acoustic and snapping pandeiro. While Curumin proves adept at fusing past forms, reinterpretation of past fusion proves a trickier affair.
Fortunately, Achados e Perdidos is more about being simply funky, soulful, and entertaining. Curumin instantly gratifies by going straight for the floors rather than theorizing musical. The case is a valid concern for him considering his exceptional musicianship (he plays most of the instruments); and, in one of life’s ironies, talent and skill does not always translate into good pop music (what’s the line about the motion of the ocean?).
Had the inverse been a reality, technique could have been thrown in the listener’s face like bukkake. However, the pastiche sensibility loosens the album, placing Curumin on the border of being an exception to the rule. The record title thus seems an apt summation of the artist’s process of finding his feet. Glimpses of genius surface intermittently, suggesting better things to come.