Brazilian Music, Com Nem Partituras
The title of this album, which translates to “Fragments of Free and Spontaneous Music”, is kind of a double lie. This is not any kind of free jazz, everyone playing what he or she wants all spontaneously. These are pop songs, more or less, just with some odd kinds of constructions and a healthy sense of disrespect for what the word “pop” really is supposed to mean. So that’s one lie, or maybe misunderstanding.
The other one has to do with the term “fragments”. Young Brazilian composer Luiz Gayotto worked with a lot of his crazy musician friends to create these songs, sometimes editing them down from other longer jam sessions or putting together everyone’s weird ideas into song form. But they do not sound like fragments, by any means. Even the stranger tracks here have their own internal consistency and I’ve heard much more avant-garde things on the radio.
For example, you have your first song here, “Fim”. There are no words, just a series of repeated chants of “nananana” with ambient-turning-to-funky backing. The track is built around the pulse of the human voice, like Steve Reich if he ever stooped to have a little fun. Details come in and drop out: cellos, trumpets, electronics, Clara Bastos’ fusion-ish bass playing. But the core of the piece is just that simple sighing tone, eighth notes throbbing in a regular chordal pattern. It’s strange, sure enough, but it’s not exactly “O Superman” or “Bohemian Rhapsody”, or anything truly bizarre like that. Just a nice little chamber-pop song with no lyrics at all.
Gayotto loves the loop. “Hilária” is built on a repeating sample of people laughing at a party; it’s done so smoothly that I didn’t realize it was a loop at all until I heard the one dude’s voice rising on the same four-note pattern every two measures. Gayotto is joined by two colleagues on this one: Alfredo Bello does some wild stuff with a mini-Moog, and Simone Soul plays nine different percussion instruments to turn this all into a pretty damned fine sambatronic dance track. Again, there are no lyrics, but there is a cool tension set up by how Gayotto tweaks the loop in subtle ways, introducing new laughs and turning others into blips and bleeps.
But this is far from just being some kind of “oh look at me I’m so strange” album. Gayotto loves music too much to try to destroy anything… it’s just that he wants music “sem limituras,” without limits. Many of the tracks are easily traceable to pre-existing genres. “Cantiga” is a pretty folk ballad with touching lyrics about ruins and solutions; it’s all very much like Tribalistas, nothing strange here, unless you happen to notice that the spiraling string sounds are actually falsetto human voices. “A Balela da Lenda” is sexy acoustic stop-start funk that sounds a lot like late-model Caetano Veloso or Gilberto Gil. And “Hipocrisia” just flat-out cooks in a guitar-strum seduction, Gayotto’s vocals doing at least triple duty as they argue and play hide-and-seek with each other. It’s kind of lovely.
The album’s most amazing song is “Vazio”, where everything comes together. The melody is both bizarre and beautiful at once, haunting and insistently rhythmic, while a track bubbles quietly beneath it. Much of the song actually uses Gayotto’s voice as a continuo, lilting Portuguese words tumbling over each other like clothes in a dryer. As the track progresses, Gayotto’s multitracked vocals get more and more frantic, desperate, and are joined by others that are just as desperate and frantic. The tension mounts as some of the music falls away, and suddenly it’s just humans yelling at each other in syncopated rhythm that still manages to keep that trademarked mix of sadness and smoothness that one finds in the most interesting and best Brazilian music.
I think that Luiz Gayotto is a huge talent; large stretches of this record sound as weird/cool as anything Brian Eno did in the 1970s. If this seems like a huge compliment, then you have a firm grasp on how great this record often is. Not every song is as original as “Hilária” or “Vazio”—some of the record is derivative, and other parts are just very good instead of amazing. But there is much here to suggest that Gayotto might end up being one of the giants from this giant musical land.