Thursday, November 03, 2005

I Found That Essence Rare

With all due respect to my indie-store-owning/label-running friends, I confess that I have been known to duck into chain stores from time to time. If I'm jonesing for a little record shoppin' and there's a Barnes & Noble or Media Play in the vicinity, you'll find me there. It's not pretty, but it's true. And, much as I hate to say it, the Brazilian bins at some of these joints are actually bigger and/or more interestingly stocked than the ones at the hipper/cooler shops in my neck of the woods.

So there I was, browsing my local Borders outlet, when I came across

this bargain-priced 3-disc Essential Guide to Brazil on the British budget label Union Square Music. Normally I'm wary of cheapie compilations like this, but the lineup of artists looked really promising--a mix of some I know and like (Getz, Veloso, Gil, Celso Fonseca, Zuco 103, Trio Mocotó), a couple I've been wanting to check out in more detail (Chico Buarque, Seu Jorge), and a bunch I've never heard of (Grupo Cabana, Zeca Pagodinho, Bob Azzam, and many more). There are several familiar songs, mostly by Jobim (the obligatory "Girl from Ipanema" is done by Paula Santoro), but plenty that I've never heard of. Of those, a super-catchy cover of "16 Tons" by Funk Como Le Gusta ("16 Toneladas") jumped out right away, along with a 50s-sounding novelty called "Crickets Sing for Ana Maria" by Marcos Valle, and Monica Vasconcelos' electronica-influenced take on "Bananeira" (Bebel Gilberto also does a version of this, and I'm pretty sure lots of other people do, too, since the melody is one I'm certain I heard long before I started listening to all this Brazilian stuff). Come to think of it, other than a pretty straightforward jazz piece ("Dado" by Bruno E) and some slightly muzak-y bits on Disc 1, there's not much on here that I don't like. For the price of a single CD, you get three albums that serve as a handy little guide to a lot of interesting artists worthy of further investigation.

I wouldn't really call this an "Essential Guide," mind you. I don't get the sense that there's a strong curatorial voice here. Each disc has a scholarly-looking theme--"Bossa Nova: The 60s Revolution," "Samba and the Samba Legacy," and "New Routes, Old Roots: Brazil 2K"--but these seem a little contrived, especially since the packaging is otherwise so astonishingly minimal. The image you see above appears on each of the slender cases, and there's nothing else to distinguish them--not even a disc number. Liner notes? Dream on.

Actually, notes for each song do exist online, at the label's website. They're short, but informative. Again, if you want to get your feet wet in the music of the region, this seems like a good, low-cost place to start. (FYI, at the same site you'll find a list of the other albums and sets on their roster, many of which also have online liner notes. I'm guessing the volumes devotes to Arabic and African music demonstrate the same strengths and weaknesses as the Brazilian one. Maybe the next time I find myself at Borders, I'll seek 'em out.)

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