It’s “An erotic appreciation of the feminine mystique,” according to the press release. While that might have been a euphemism for a kind of Jonny Trunk-style Dirty-Fan-Male-on-holiday, 3 Na Massa (São Paulo producer Rica Amabis, together with the former Nação Zumbi rhythm section of Pupillo and — the ironically named, given Rio’s recent epidemic — Dengue) contrive a genuinely hot-under-the-collar collection of bumps, beats, and grinds, creamed off by a roll call of carioca dames whose Portuguese (and French)-language fantasias — written by the boys (a coterie of songwriters including Juno Barreto and Rodrigo’s Amarante and Brandão) putting themselves into the minds of the girls — succeed in redefining the word seductive.
It’s a perennially fascinating idea, if hardly the first time men have imagined themselves into women’s inner worlds. Even if you don’t understand the detail of the confessions, though, you’ll get the gist of it, and the sexual charge, which — the lads will doubtless be delighted to hear — feels overwhelmingly femme fatale-esque.
To the music then, a ’90s-rooted, ’60s and ’70s-referencing, defiantly studio-bound amalgam of samples, intergalactic basslines, and instrumental bric-a-brac, loolling around inside lazy rhythms which in another time and place might have been termed trip-hop. Nor is the spectre of Saint Etienne ever too far out of earshot, and Serge Gainsbourg gets mentioned in the press release no less than twice, just to make sure we get the message. Further underlining the aching cinematic hipness of it all are references to Fellini, Roger Vadim, and Brazilian director Hugo Khouri, backed up by the fact that several of the female contributors are actresses rather than singers.
You’d be entitled to think the presence of a telenovela star — Karine Carvalho — might throw a Globo-populist spanner in such bohemian works, but then Brazil’s soap operas are a highly regarded and lavishly produced world unto themselves. And considering that fact that — Kylie Minogue notwithstanding — TV soap starlets don’t have a particularly auspicious track record in the music business, at least in the Northern hemisphere, Carvalho gives a disarmingly gorgeous account of herself on the Caribbean-kissed, vintage organ-waltzing “Tatuí”, one of several standout tracks measured in sheer sensuality as much as foreplay of melody and rhythm. Given their endemic musicality, it’s sometimes tempting to believe that each and every Brazilian is a natural born singer. Alice Braga — better known for her turn as a reluctant gangster’s moll in City of God — might have added weight to the theory, but her streetwise versifiying — on closer “Tarde Demais”, over a suitably menacing, RZA-esque production — makes it difficult to tell. Likewise the brief, spoken word refractions of film actress Simone Spoladore.
With a project like this, in which a hundred and one cooks are constantly at risk of spoiling the electro-lounge broth, there’s always a chance the general anonymity of it all will seep into the music. The compositions that really conjure up a technicolour wet dream are those which lay off the bossa-lite/hip-hop stolidity (in which respect the album could perhaps have done without the rather one dimensional Lurdez Da Luz effort, “Sem Fôlego”). More engaging are those which flirt with something a little freakier.
For those who’ve followed her whims since the Smoke City days, it should come as little surprise, then, that the ever wonderful Nina Miranda makes herself heard over the competition. Her sole, stunning contribution, “Morada Boa”, makes you wonder whether she didn’t also have a hand in writing it (no songwriting credits are supplied for individual tracks, at least not on the review copy). Its uncertain melancholy, a whirpool of effects and whispering clarinet, suggests she should have been given free reign over the whole project. She even outshines CéU, current darling of Brazilian music, the humid brass and torpid beat of “Doce Guia” being just a little too familiar to bear much of a thrill. Far more intriguing is the Nina Becker-fronted “O Objeto”; close your eyes and the fade-out could be Chicha Libre, that vintage organ having twined its way through the chorus like a leopard-printed eel.
Figure in an ingenious bass clarinet and twilight-zone-organ bossa from Becker’s Orquestra Imperial colleague (and yet another respected soap fixture) Thelma de Freitas, and you’re reminded how tightly-knit — for such a huge country — the Brazilian scene really is, and with so much inter-generational talent around, how inevitable the São Paulo’s current musical renaissance. If you’re after a flavour of that renaissance, you could do far worse than 3 Na Massa, at its best an absorbing showcase for how fluid, original, and perceptive Brazilian musicians can be, and how crucial collaboration is to their art. At its best, it’s also an advert for music as mental cinema, the kind of imaginary soundtrack which resonates in any language.