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Luminous Brazilian pop with electro flourishes

Vinicius Cantuária’s wonderful “Rio Negro” from Sol Na Cara was one of the few songs ever to appear both on a WFMU fundraising CD (the influential NJ freeform station)  and a Starbucks compilation.  It’s a rare trick, making music so rich and evocative that it appeals to people with stacks of 1960s Latin vinyl, and yet so accessibly sensuous that it doesn’t interfere with a morning latte.  Here with his fifth studio album, Cantuária again strikes a balance between pure pleasure and authentic craftsmanship, between hip-shifting rhythms and smooth lyricism, between bare-bones instrumentation and electronic ornamentation.  Silva is the sort of record that is immediately gorgeous in a glossy, pristinely produced way, but that only gradually reveals its heart and soul. 


Cantuária is one of the leading members of a younger generation of Brazilian songwriters, admired for the fluidity with which he combines conventional Latin pop with more experimental sounds.  A former drummer for Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Tropicalia stars, he wrote Veloso’s mega-hit “Lua e Estrella”.  After moving to the states in the mid-1990s, he began collaborating with an extraordinary collection of jazz and experimental musicians, including Bill Frisell, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Arto Lindsay, who co-wrote three songs on Silva.


Silva is a deeply personal project, with songs written mostly at Cantuária’s Brooklyn apartment and starting with just voice and acoustic guitar.  Strings, occasional horns and the soft, lilting percussion were added later, and with a light hand, so that the focus remains primarily on Cantuária’s voice, which is wonderfully natural, melodic and unforced.  Yet though its beginnings were in bedroom recordings, this record is very smoothly produced, almost slick in places.  The strings, particularly in opener “A Dor” at first seem a little saccharine, though on repeat listens, they disappear into the overall beauty of the song.  Much better is the jazz-inflected “Re-entry” one of several songs in English and one of the three Lindsay collaborations.  Here Cantuária sets his plaintive melody against the barest accompaniment of electric and acoustic guitars, with an occasional brush of cymbal for emphasis.  It leads into the upbeat and syncopated “The Bridge,” with its percussive melody, cool jazz flugelhorn break, and sampled embellishments.  The lyrics, essentially different permutations of the idea that bossa nova is a good thing, are little more than a way to carry the song’s laid back groove, but the beat is infectious. 


“Evening Rain”, another English language song, another one co-written with Lindsay, is also wonderful.  Dreamily melancholic, Cantuária’s quiet voice barely caresses the notes and infuses the “Rain … rain…falling hard” lyrics with wistful longing.  And “Paraguai” which follows, is sad, simple and irresistible with its mournful lyrics and samba beat.  The disc closes with “India,” just Cantuária and his guitar, weaving a sensual spell.  In the song, Cantuária coaxes an Indian girl to kiss him, love him, move to Manhattan with him and “shoot a movie before we come back to Brazil.”  It’s a measure of how beautiful the song, his voice and the guitar are, that you might find yourself falling for this dubious proposition…when he sings it, it sounds utterly romantic. 


This is wonderful stuff, a good point of entry if you’re just getting into Brazilian pop and essential if you follow it closely.

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