Brazilian music has always had a second home in America, from the early bossa novas of Joao Gilberto to the modern jazz efforts of Flora Purim and Airto Moreira.
But nowadays, young Brazilians regard the bossa nova in much the same way that American teenagers view the twist and many Brazilian jazz musicians would rather play like Chick Corea than Luis Bonfa. Still, Brazil boasts performers that have braved the turbulence of the past decade and emerged as superstars in their own right. Two of them, Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento, recently released new albums that provide excellent examples of current Brazilian musical directions.
Gil has long been known through out brazil as a composer and performer, but "Nightingale" (Elektra, 6E-167) is his first American release after 10 Latin American albums. "Nightingale" is produced by Sergio Mendes, but Gil's compositions are farmore traditional than Brasil '77's material. Where Mendes gained a large following with samba-oriented arrangements of such English melodies as "Fool on the Hill," and "The Look of Iove," Gil has not noticeably changed his approach to woo American audiences.
The only obvious variation from the norm is that many of the lyrics on "Nightingale" are sung in English rather than in Portuguese.
Gil's music is accessible because he sticks to readily recognizable styles. "Samba de Los Angeles" is a modern edition of the classic sambas that Bonfa, Gilberto, and Antonio Carlos Jobim brought to American attention. "Goodbye My Girl" and "Ella" have reggae ovetomes and all of "Nightingale" sounds like what you might hear during carnival in Rio.
Probably the most appealing aspect of Gilberto Gil is his voice. It is not only gently melodic, but playful. Like fellow Brazilian vocalist Jorge Ben, Gil's delivery is light and airy and never flags.
Like much Latin American music, Gil's compositions are driven by percussions. The result is an infectious, dance-provoking sound.
Milton Nascimento's "Journey to Dawn" (A&M, SP 4719) is a bit harder to appreciate on first listening, primarily because Nascimento constantly strives for the new. In doing so, he strays from America's perception of Brazilian music. Still, Nascimento is highly regarded in South America, and his songs have been performed by American jazz players including Quincy Jones and Grady Tate.
Nascimento recently appeared at the Sao Apulo Jazz Festival (which, ironically, did not feature many Brazilians) and has been an influential figure in Brazil for years. "Journey to Dawn" is his second album for A&M, and it rejects traditional formulas in an attempt to fuse old and new styles.
"Pablo II/Pablo/Pablo II," which opens the album, is part English, part Portuguese; part tribal chant, part modern ballad; part primitive, part progressive. Like "Nightingale," "Journey to Dawn" relies on percussion, but Nascimento is not reluctant to add string ("Maria Maria") or large choral arrangements ("O Cio da Terra"). He also uses horns to a much greater degree than Gil, giving some of his songs an American big band sound.
Despite these embellishments, Nascimento is more primal than Gil. "Alouca" sounds like an ancient tribal prayer and many of Nascimento's arrangements are reminiscent of the native rhythms and instrumentations currently practiced by guitarist Egberto Gismonti.
This does not make Nascimento's album any less pleasing. His melodies are ingratiating and hsi vocal range is greater than Gil's.
Like all musical innovators, Nascimento demands a lot from his audience. You need to listen carefully to "Journey to Dawn" in order to recognize its subtleties and almost subliminal blend of traditional Brazilian culture with modern musical thinking.
Whether your taste favors the serious experimentation of Nascimento or the exuberance of Gil, it's obvious that Brazilian music can still be accepted as part of the American music scene without having to resort to "Girl From Ipanema."