Tom Zé: Estudando a Bossa (Nordeste Plaza)

Many of the songs seem to be endless churnings that seem headed to a climax, and whether or not it comes seems irrelevant.

Tom Zé

Estudando a Bossa (Nordeste Plaza)

Label: Luaka Bop
US Release Date: 2010-10-05
UK Release Date: Import

Okay, I admit it. I do not understand Portuguese. I do not have a clue to what the words on the new Tom Ze record are about. The compact disc the label sent for review does not come with a front cover, lyric sheet, translation page, or liner notes. I have repeatedly played the new Tom Zé record, but it seems the more I play it, the more lost I get. Is Zé making fun of the bossa nova music genre? That’s what it seems like, though I cannot be sure. Maybe something more meta is going on -- is this a disc making fun of discs that make fun of bossa nova?

In the end, none of this matters. Most North American listeners are like me. They will have little understanding of the cultural contexts or what the lyrics mean in English. We will only have the exotic sound of the music. The question becomes, is this a fun album in which to get lost? The answer is an emphatic yes.

This is wild, wacky, and wonderful noise with traces of tropical breezes and swaying foliage sighing through the instrumentation, pretty vocal harmonies provided by women with lovely voices and alliterative sounds mixed with grunts and oys and whatever. Zé’s vocals are rough and manly, in a playful way. He has a strong sense of rhythm that makes this dance music infectious, even when Zé lays down a speechified rant to minimal accompaniment (such as on “João Nos Tribunais”).

The music is also sexy. How can an album full of subtle sighs and gentle rhythms not be? Many of the songs seem to be endless churnings that seem headed to a climax, and whether or not it comes seems irrelevant. The fun lies in the efforts. The music may not be orgasmic as the release becomes of secondary importance. Instead, just getting worked up is an end in itself.

There are some words in English on the album, most notably on “Outra Insensatez, Poe!”, that features a duet between Zé and David Byrne (the album is on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label). The song begins with Zé groaning in Portuguese to a lilting acoustic guitar accompaniment. Byrne then delivers his English translation in a smooth voice. The narrator complains that it’s New Year’s Eve, and while fireworks burst in the air, his love his has left him, so he feels pain like the “chicken pox and then measles and then a nasty fever that entered my chest like an invading army with barbed wire wrapped around my young skin”. Zé continues his lament and Byrne continues his translation -- and the difference between the two vocal styles -- Zé’s sandpaper-y moans and Byrne’s dispassionate and straightforward delivery creates a comic effect. Ze’s over-emoting comes off as purposely solipsistic. Byrne’s deadpan conveys a droll double-meaning.

Indeed, a sense of humor pervades the disc. Whether it’s chorus that echoes The Beatles (“Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”) on the fancifully titled “Roquenrol Bim-Bom” or soccer crowds chanting on “Brazil, Capital Buenos Aires”, there always seems to be something off-kilter on every song that makes one listen closer as if this would reveal hidden secrets. Who knows what this mystery may be? For all I know, the album contains the world’s greatest egg salad recipe. But there’s no riddle as to how to enjoy the disc -- just put it on and listen.







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.