A record of its time, and an obscure one at that, with a sound that could not be reproduced today. Wall-of- sound large band arrangements alternate with sparse guitar and vocals. Tuca’s in her own creative world here, wordlessly scatting and hissing and wah-wahing in ways that most artists would be too embarrassed to try, the husky-voiced plus-sized lady lays her soul bare, so freely that one is more than willing to overlook the limits of her range. This album is a strange, unique thing, and the mysterious, bleak title track is unforgettable. The first half is more upbeat, the second half melts into exquisite despair. Tuca died in 1978—so long ago, now—trying to lose weight too fast. Her presence as arranger and musician on Francoise Hardy’s 1970 masterwork, La Question, raised the French pop diva to a far higher plane and resulted in a classic album. This 1974 effort, bizarre though it may be, is my favorite Brazilian album, but is not one I would recommend to someone just starting out in exploring Brazilian music; this is very much a specialty item. MP3 copies once available on the Internet now seem to have disappeared, and the LP, if you can even find it, goes for about $100. Why does she have that spangled shit on her face and wet hair and bared shoulders? Beats me.
Funky and cheesy all in one, this is Fender Rhodes swirling and bouncing up, over and around Donato’s nasally off-key voice. Basically one of the sweetest sessions of the ’70s. If you can download a high-quality LP rip of this, then do so. It sounds better than the CD, though the CD is fine enough. My dad used to wear a Gilligan hat like that, too.
As is often the case with Brazillian records, here we have a self-titled LP that was followed by another album titled Gal Costa in 1969, thus some confusion. Both are great records, but I prefer this blend of psychedelic electric fuzz and echoey dreamy amorphism, with Costa lending her fearless vocal talents to ballads and rocker-screamers in equal measure. Just about as perfect as a record can get. Just remember, this is the one with a kinky haired Gal sporting a feather-boa on the cover.
Mid-life crisis records can be a drag, especially coming from well-appointed cariocas, but Buarque (pronounced BOO-ar-kee) ain’t the greatest living Brazilian musical artist for nothing, and this trip earns all the emotions he expects us to invest in it. Buarque started down this artistic road in 1971 with the somewhat more hopeless and angry Construcao, but with Vida he seems more resigned and worldly wise; the results are more bittersweet and bemused, jaded but celebratory. Buarque in his ’60s LPs sang in a smooth ballad style rendered softer by echoey engineering. But here he lets down that bossa pretense and his singing is more percussive and nasally, and honest. For some, it may be an acquired taste. The musical thought here is of the highest order. A haunting journey.
Perhaps Elis’ most perfect record, luxuriously produced by Roberto Menescal. It opens with a trance-like take on the standard “Aquarela do Brasil” and proceeds onto echo-chamber versions of “Casa Forte” and “Vera Cruz” that sound other-worldly. The album is sort of a history of Brazilian music, trucked up with post-psychedelic soundscapes. Brazil’s greatest diva is impeccable in French with a rendition of “Recit de Cassard” from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Her version of Vinicius de Moraes’ “Canto De Osssanha” sounds nothing like the original; Elis slicks it up, propels it and makes it her own. The final track, the percussive “Memorias de Marta Sare,” is a bit jarring after the liquid smoothness that has come before, but Elis soars in and out of the mix to startling effect. Elis’ apparent amusement at sporting a straw-hat on the cover provides no indication as to what this magical record holds.
Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil have undoubtedly done a million great tracks as two of Brasil’s leading artists since the ’60s, but I am hard-pressed to single out any one of their albums as any particular favorite of mine. This one, which brings them together, is the one that does it for me. A sweet listen, tastefully produced, and even though Veloso does some of his trademark oddball experimentation, it is of a more genteel variety. A good deal of this evokes memories of the 1970s, even though it is a 1990′s session.
Not so long ago a newbie on the Brazilian scene, Djavan—one of the major singer-songwriters to emerge from Brazil since the ’70s—has now become something of an artistic elder statesman. This genteel debut from 1976 sports a more muted, acoustic production ambiance as compared to his more synthed-up later efforts. Not a bum track here; the whole thing is a thorough pleasure to hear. I’m not sure I like it any more or less than Alumbramento, Caro de Indio or Seduzir (see also on this list), but if I wanted to introduce a neophyte to this soulful singer-songwriter, this is where I would start. This one is in print and easy to find at present.
One of the masterpieces of Brazilian pop, this album should never be excluded from conversations where Sgt Pepper… or other classic “best albums” are invoked. In fact, this sprawling album has been called “Brazil’s White Album” by some. The influence of late Beatles and George Martin on the production soundscape is unmistakable. Actually, I’d compare a lot of the style and sound of this album to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Fortunately, there are no endless jams or spacey noodlings as became common in more pretentious pop-rock artistic statements (or some of Milton’s own solo albums). The tracks here are all short and sweet. The ideas are stated and played without outstaying their welcome. There’s some back story about how this grew out of an artists collective of musicians hailing from the state of Minas Gerais, but you can go to Wikipedia for that. Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges made many great albums but in combination they are dynamite. They followed this up with an arguably equally great Clube da esquina 2 in 1978. Lo Borges’ tendency toward amorphous synthed-up wall of sound could result in some pretty goopy solo albums, but paired with piercing falsetto of Milton and the latter’s sense of musical rhythm the effects come off as perfect. It starts off acoustic and traditionalist and introduces electric, synth, sitar and so on in subsequent tracks. It’s definitely ambitious, but not in a wearying way. It moves. A must listen. I can’t imagine relating to anyone who doesn’t immediately love this record.
A spacey, haunting jazz, light-rock fusion/MPB album of Horta’s mellifluous melodies and ace electric and acoustic guitar work, layered atop strings and other spacious production values. This is the perfect “night music” record for the den or for driving down the interstate highway. This early effort, recorded in the ’70s is arguably Horta’s best album (more on him below, see also Toninho Horta, 1980). The session lineup is a real dream team with such luminaries as Milton Nascimento, Airto Moreira, Nivaldo Ornellas, Wagner Tiso and Raul de Souza. As Stewie would say: “Can you imagine?”
It’s hard to pick one Simone album from the 1970s because they are all so good, but this one has the most “hits” and gives the best representation of her peak period before production values undermined her. Even so, her deep, husky, perhaps even manly, voice always seemed up to the task. This is a nearly perfect set of pop ballads, allowing Simone to do her classic torchy burn in her vibrato-less style, which, it must be admitted is not for all tastes. I love it. Included is one of her signature tunes O Que Sera (not to be confused with that Doris Day song) in which she essays insistence, yearning, bleakness and pain in exquisite fashion. There’s a little synth to betray the ’70s production, but this is mostly acoustic and tasteful. This album is the best place to start. Not to be confused with Nina Simone.
This was one of my early entres into Brazilian pop music when I picked this up on cassette for 5 cents out of a clearance bin in the 1990s at the long-defunct Camelot superstore in Louisville. A few years later, when the out-of-print CD was going routinely for $50 on eBay, I was able to sell this there as a cheaper alternative for $15. It helped offset a little bit the $45 I paid on eBay to get the CD for myself. It’s the most I ever paid for a single disc, but it was worth it. The cassette had made me love this album, but the sound needed upgrading, of course. Not too long after, the CD was reissued as part of an Odeon restrospective series and was more reasonably priced (I believe it has gone out of print yet again). But anyway… I’m not sure if this or Terra dos Pessaros (see also on list) qualifies as Horta’s debut album. The other album is maybe a hair better in terms of artistic cred because of its all-star lineup; this one gets into some early ’80s production stylings that might make some cringe. To me this is a gorgeous session. For the uninitiated, Horta is one of the most original jazz fusion guitarists and musical thinkers in the world. Self taught and growing up in musically rich Minas Gerais, Horta was thus freed of all the restrictions of the “rules” of what a musician is supposed to do. His melodies are soaring and untethered; his guitar work inexpressibly beautiful. What puts off some listeners about this artist is his vocal style. He typically croons and moans wordlessly in an off-key nasally manner in synch with his guitar lines. Like those people who told Frank Zappa to “Shut up and play yer guitar,” there are plenty who wish Horta would do the same. I’m not one of them. Horta’s voice is an acquired taste, and I’ve acquired it. Horta, like a Glenn Gould of Brazilian jazz fusion, cannot help himself. I love it. Unlike many Brazilian artists, who tend to stay at home, Horta does tour internationally. He has a cult following in Europe, Japan and the United States and is a frequent collaborator with noted fusionist Pat Metheny. Hopefully I’ll be able to see this consummate artist on tour someday.
One foot in the ’60s and the other in the ’70s, this is a wildly creative mixture of psychedelic electric wall-of-sound atmospherics and more rootsy Brazilian styles; this is the creme de la creme of Brazilian rock of the vintage. I prefer this to the music of Os Mutantes, to which it is often compared; but unlike them, Novos Baianos has a talent I appreciate for keeping things short and to the point and noodling-free. And I prefer this debut album to Novos Baianos’ second LP, Acabou Chorare (1972), which is the one that gets on all the critics’ 10-best lists. That one is great too, of course, and also a favorite of mine, but this one seems even more consistently delightful. This one has been re-released with bonus tracks, apparently.
I include this one with caveats; several of the cuts are cheesy covers of top 40 pop hits of the day, as was so common to Sergio Mendes/Herb Alpert-type instrumental albums of the vintage. But another half dozen tunes here are so delightful that they’ve become favorites in my iTunes folder. This album stands in for all the jaunty, jangly, funky acoustic instrumental records produced in such abundance in Brazil during the 1960s and 1970s. The best of the selection include tight, catchy, funky grooves that would fit nicely into anyone’s world music mix. This is the sort of retro deep groove record that music bloggers like to push, as well they should. As a supplement to this kind of fare, I would recommend the expertly compiled, multi-part The Bossa Nova Exciting Jazz Rhythms series.
In poll after poll, list after list, this album is the one that shows up most consistently when experts and fans are asked to name the best or favorite Brazilian records. Brazil’s greatest woman singer interprets the incomparable poetical masterworks of Jobim, who, thankfully, serves mainly as a musical accompaniment, though he does sing with the diva on a few tracks. There’s probably no better album of Jobim standards yet made. The chemistry and good vibes between these two artists are palpable. You can hear Elis smiling when she sings. A classic, and Elis’ best-known album. Produced in Los Angeles.
A late entry in the artist’s canon, done not long before his untimely death. Gonzaguinha, as he was affectionately known, was the son of the legendary traditional forro singer/accordionist Luiz Gonzaga. This one is pretty heavily laden with slick 80′s production and pop beats, so some may not find this to their tastes. This was another find from the nickel bin at the defunct Camelot superstore in Louisville back when I was first discovering Brazilian music, so my attachment to this is due partly to emotional baggage. I used to pop this in my car’s cassette player on long drives into the night. I call albums like this “music for a future that never came,” which is to say upbeat, slick, echoey heavily produced pop of the style prevalent in the late 1980s. But this is distinctly Brazilian and Gonzaguinha’s melodies are fetching, and the thing moves as he covers a number of different styles and genres of Brazilian music. There’s even a rap-style track that’s an acquired taste; I kind of like it now. The first track, Tanacara, became well known to many in the US for its use as a theme song on a popular NPR program (the name of which now eludes me). The US domestic release of this on World Pacific was titled simply É, which is the title of one of the songs therein.
Despite some disco-era production elements that might make some cringe, this album is an essential document of Elis’ art. She’s in beautiful voice in a lushly produced session mostly made up of slow, romantic ballads of yearning and several trademark Elis classics, especially O Bebado E a Equilibrista, which became a beloved anthem in Brazil because of its barely veiled criticism of the military regime then in power. Typical of this record is the loping, gorgeous Bolero de Sata (Satan’s Bolero). The album’s two upbeat numbers, Cai Dentro and Eu Hein Rosa are the most heavily infused with the disco-era production stylings, which might be a problem if they weren’t so much fun. Earlier CDs of this issued by WEA (Warner Latina) had some mastering problems, so shop around.
A unique, mysterious, hard-to-describe set by Bosco, with light sambas and boleros and ballads that are all infused with a light rock/MPB touch. This is another great ’70s Brazilian album on CD that has gone out of print after I was lucky and prescient enough to purchase it. I played it while my son was in the house one day and when he heard the weird, wordless soaring female vocal on Miss Sueter he said it reminded him of the main theme to the old Star Trek series. You gotta love the Dali-inspired cover art.
Of all the albums listed here, this was the most problemmatical for me – it was not an album that I warmed up to right away. In fact, I found it offputting for a long time because of its poppy early ’80s sound. I thought the funky, percussive Jogral was cool, but the rest of the album seemed to me indistinct. One day, it all hit me like the ole ton o’ bricks. The soulfulness of Morena De Endoidecer, A Ilha and the title track somehow had eluded me initially. There are plenty of jaunty tracks that I now dig, too. This one came from last place to become my go-to Djavan album. And the production doesn’t strike me anymore as being heinous. Far from it. As it happens this is a fairly popular Djavan album; it received wide release on CD by World Pacific back in the ’90s. This was another nickel cassette find from the clearance bin back in my formative days of entering into the world of Brazilian music.
Alumbramento/Cara de Indio (aka, Djavan)
(1978/1980/1992 (CD), EMI-Odeon)
Two of Djavan’s best LPs from his animated early period squeezed onto a generous single CD, allowing me to cheat and list two works as one. Djavan’s melodies and soulful vocal stylings have a bouncy, percussive quality, nicely captured on these two early albums, made before some of the more ghastly production tendencies of early 1980s recording made some of his stuff embarrassing. Caro de Indio is the more acoustic of the two; Alumbramento has great tunes and slightly more pronounced production stylings. The two LPs-on-one-CD deal is a no brainer.
Ed Motta is probably my favorite Brazilian artist to emerge in recent years. This outing is a wild melange of funk & soul, jazz fusion, wordless amorphous scatting and retro Fender Rhodes and synth effects (and even some mock opera), Dwitza often sounds like a lost artifact of the 1970s. For some, it’s too experimental, but the thing moves along and takes off, defying gravity and earthbound formula, as all the best Brazilian records do. Motta took the pseudo-soul baton from the late Tim Maia, but in every way is a superior artist, especially in his vocal quality and control, not to mention overall musicality. His followup, Poptical, is arguably as good.
A lucky purchase for me right before the demise of the HMV superstore in Louisville back in the ’90s and right as this CD was going out of print. These seminal, haunting recordings have been in legal limbo now for about 15 years, thanks to an artistic tussle between Gilberto and the record company, which he accused of “altering” the originals through “effects” (eg., added reverb, etc.). They sound fine to me, and happen to be worth a lot of money on the used market. All kinds of blogs have posted rips of the CD and the original three LPs it comprises (in case you’d like to compare). There’s enough out there about why these recordings are so important. Quite simply, they are among the most beautiful ever made.
Probably the easiest to find of the albums listed here. Just about any large chain retailer should have this. There is a whole series of Chill Brazil compilations, this one by Joyce seems to me to be the most perfect, though they all adhere to something of a formula and are not exactly adventurous. Like the others, it is nonetheless an ace mix of well-known and less renowned Brazilian artists, on two amply filled discs. For someone gingerly testing the Brazilian waters, I would make this set priority one.
After the death of Bob Marley and the relative success of African music internationally in the 1980s, record companies scrambled to push various forms of “world music” on the US and Euro markets. Brazilian music was one category pushed, so a number of nice compilations came out, including David Byrne’s O Samba from Warner and this one from Rykodisc. I prefer this one mainly because it crams more artists and more songs onto the disc and the styles covered are more eclectic. The focus is mainly on various forms of samba here, so don’t expect bossa nova, or forro or MPB or jazz-fusions. This is a well-selected mix. I would put this at the top as an introduction record to the more tradition-oriented sounds of Brazil.
Elis thought she had blown her first set at the ’79 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, but then she came out and blew the audience away. With raw accompaniment by keyboardists Hermeto Pascoal and Cesar Camargo Mariano, this live set is a lot less slick than most of the diva’s studio albums, which makes it a nice contrast and probably preferable for many listeners. The CD has a lot more material than the original album did, and videos of the performance have even more. There was a time earlier this year  when I listened to nothing but this album over and over for nearly a whole month. I was fascinated by the nuances of Elis’ voice and range, how she managed to belt and turn a phrase even when obviously fatigued at times. This ranks as one of my favorite live performances of anything.
A perfect set from singer-songwrite Joyce, everyone’s favorite Brazilian hippie chick. It starts off in bouncy fashion with the irresistible title track and never falters, except for maybe the laughing and singing children at the end of Clareana, which now sounds like an affected device. Joyce’s loping, earnest, yearning, emotive version of her own-penned Essa Mulher in some ways eclipses the more slicked up one by Elis Regina, if that’s possible.
Bossa gets a 70s funky soundtrack feeling in this super-easy, hook-laden session. Like so many albums of the vintage, it’s far too short at just over a half hour – one wishes this one could go on an on. Sweet arrangements, with Valle’s vocal, lyrical wildness kept at tasteful mid-tempo. Just about everyone seems to agree that this is Valle’s masterwork. I cannot refute that.
Moacir Santos, sax player, arranger and composer left us not too long ago; he made this life-career retrospective double album just in time. It’s an epic journey through beautiful jazz fusion soundscapes played by a supergroup of top musicians and guest artists. Topnotch production. It took me a few listens to warm up to it (some might find it a bit noodling), but the taste was worth acquiring.
The whispering chanteuse of Brasil covers a good deal of Tom Jobim here. Originally a two-LP set generously crammed onto one ample CD, there’s hardly a better introduction to this prolific artist.