I don’t know much about Brazilian music, but I’ll trust veteran UK producer, DJ, and radio host Gilles Peterson for as good a guide as any, in large part because he’s done it before. And no matter that I missed his first installment, because the follow-up, Back in Brazil, is just as good a starting point as any. As with his first excursion into the populist musicological history of Brazilian dance , Peterson’s new CD of Brazilian music is split between Das Velhas — or, the old stuff — and Novas (translation up to you). The former is a journey of constant revelation through the Latin jazz and funk of a previous generation; the latter a less cohesive, though still enjoyable, trip through new-acid jazz, Latin electro, and reggaeton-funk.
Das Velhas is a gem of a CD, full of Latin jazz from the ’60s and ’70s swirling through 40 minutes of pure passion, so that even if you don’t know the first thing about jazz, or Brazilian music, or Brazilian jaxx, you can’t help smiling all the way through. And these short songs — none of the 14 are much over 3 minutes — flow so easily it’s almost pointless to pick out individual tracks. You may be captivated by the gentle, toned-down sound of the Portugese language swishing through salsa tunes like “Swinga Sambaby” by Trio Mocoto. And “Reflexos” may be the disc’s casual high-point, with its magnificently dissonant flute and sway of electronics that feels thoroughly contemporary. Though the excursion into cutesy foreign-accented English (“California Soul”) doesn’t bring quite as much satisfaction, it’s still part of a warm, pleasant sound. And after it has all washed over you, you may not remember the precise syncopation of the brass melody in Antonio Adolfo’s “Cascavel”, but the whole experience is sure to relax, enlighten; the kind of music to photosynthesize a rainy afternoon.
Novas picks up right where the first disc left off: Echo Soundsystem’s reggae beat could have come from the ’70s directly. But the disc soon explodes with some very modern dance tropes — rap and electro. As a whole, the disc hasn’t got the same sense of discovery that pervades Das Velhas, and the mish-mash of styles, though no doubt representative of the eclecticism of modern dance in Brazil, gives Novas a little bit of a flow problem. Though Peterson does his best to hide it, when you’re hearing jazz one minute and Portuguese rap the next, it can be just a little jarring. And the DJ does get to strut his mixing chops, if more in song selection than in song-song flow: listen closely, and the traced line from the smooth jazz of S Tone Inc’s “Beira do Mar” through Ed Motta’s electro-jazz “E Muita Gig Vei” to the finally banging dirty-electro “Sounds Like” is truly masterful. The last, by Bugz in the Attic, is a disc highlight, a spinning synth tune that sounds like it could have been composed with Brazil’s chaotic brand of passion in mind, as the melody struggles to stay in time with the beat. Zero DB combines a sort of “Englishman in Ibiza” type tourist-vocal sample with Latin beats turned overt-electro; and Edu K’s “Sex O Matic” is like Brazilian Old School over a steady-thumping trance beat, simple but effective. But the alternation between jazz/rap/dance (the biggest offense is the Voltair/Drumagick switch) throws the listener off, and in the end the disc doesn’t have a cohesive feel.
As a casual listener, you could say, “I own my requisite one CD of Latin lounge/jazz, and don’t need this sequel.” But as Peterson has shown us here (again), the rate of change in Brazilian dance music is no less rapid than in US or European electronica, or even pop music. Further, the producer has also shown us on Back in Brazil that there’s still much great music to be dug up/rediscovered from this culture’s past, and that’s something to be truly thankful for. Personally, I hope Gilles Peterson continues going back to Brazil for many years to come.