Every once in a while the music industry atones for its sins. Quango, a great world beat/dance label started in the mid-’90s by Los Angeles DJs Jason Bentley and Bruno Guez, dissolved after just a few years, when it was dumped by major label partner Island Records; but thanks to a new deal with indie label Palm Pictures, it’s been resurrected. Jason Bentley has since gone on to bigger and better things (he now does A&R for Madonna’s Maverick label), but Bruno Guez has clearly been keeping busy during Quango’s down time — in less than six months he’s cranked out five new compilations, of which this collection, Brazilified, is arguably the best.
An eclectic collection of tracks held together by the exuberant, syncopated percussion of samba, bossa nova, cuica and other Brazilian music, Brazilified is more evidence that Brazilian “new wave” (a term I just made up, but it’ll do as well as any) may be the most exciting thing happening in world music today. A growing number of great artists over the last half-decade have taken the rhythms and energy of Brazilian music and applied them to everything from lounge music (Bebel Gilberto, Nicola Conte) to house (Ian Pooley) to the jazzy experiments in midtempo groove sometimes called “nu jazz” (Jazzanova and the Truby Trio, both represented here).
On Brazilified, Guez has pulled together an impressive cross-section of new Brazilian sounds, featuring established artists, promising newcomers, and a couple of older tracks (some of this material dates back to 1997) that have been undeservedly overlooked, at least in the U.S. While Guez’s tastes may lean a bit too heavily towards Latin jazz for some, the breadth and consistency of his selections make Brazilified a real standout in the typically uneven world of compilation CDs.
The album starts with the funky jazz of Butti49’s “Brasilikum”, a wonderfully rich track that combines a heavy bass groove and skittering percussion with jazzy guitar licks and atmospheric background vocals. The arrangement on “Brasilikum” unabashedly harks back to the ’70s jazz fusion of Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny, a style Guez clearly likes — several other tracks on Brazilified, most notably the meandering and Methenyesque “A Swell Session”, layer a strong fusion vibe on top of more modern dance rhythms. Elsewhere the jazz sounds are decidedly more modern in tone.
The German DJ/producer collective Jazzanova weigh in twice, once with their classic space-jazz jam “Fedime’s Flight” and again with a “rework” of a Soul Quality Quartet song called “Toda Tersafeira”. The latter track is one of Brazilified‘s highlights, an airy marvel of edgily remixed vocals and horns scattered over a jazzy soundscape that manages to be at once silky smooth and intricately polyrhythmic. Another German, Rainer Truby, ups the ante later on the disc with a catchier, more percussive track called “Alegre”, which retains the jazzy sophistication of Jazzanova’s take on Brazilian new wave while staying more traditionally south of the equator, with a samba tempo, syncopated whistle riffs and heaps of percussion. (Why the Germans are so fascinated with Brazilian music — and so good at adapting it to their own ends — is a mystery I’ll let some more sophisticated music critic try to solve.)
The jazzy stuff on Brazilified is almost all uniformly good, but the compilation’s highlights come when Guez lets the jazz take a backseat to more booty-shaking sounds. Arsenal’s “A Volta” is a pure delight, a head-bouncing Latin house track with a sunny mix of African and more Brazilian, Astrud Gilberto-style vocals. For fans of Brazilian-tinged house, it’s almost worth owning Brazilified just for “A Volta”. Other tracks guaranteed to get your feet moving are Mr. Gone’s “Mosquito Coast ’94-’96”, which mixes a tricky but infectious cuica rhythm with jazzy keyboards and vocals, and Da Lata’s “Pra Manha”, which starts off as a breezy morsel of Brazilian pop before launching into a magnificently funky jam session, with a jazzy bass and frenetic talking drum dueling over a Latin house backbeat.
Guez saves his worst for last, a regrettably shlocky Latin house track from Nova Fronteira called “Abra a Boca” that just sounds too obvious, with its four-on-the-floor backbeat and diva house piano vamp, in the wake of the compilation’s other, more original takes on the Brazilian sound. But it does little to detract from an album that is otherwise both a wonderfully sophisticated entrée into the world of Brazilian new wave, and just a flat-out great party record. Kudos to Bruno Guez for putting Quango back on the map and — hopefully — exposing more world music fans to this exhilarating style of music.