BY RIGHTS, "Encontros e Despedidas," the new album by Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento, ought to be offputting to the average American pop fan. For starters, it's sung entirely in Portuguese, which, even with translations, makes following the lyrics no picnic. Further, instead of the steady backbeat and rock-based rhythm arrangements to which we've grown accustomed, Nascimento relies upon subtle, complex samba patterns and jazzy, understated grooves. Thus, in theory, it should be an album that takes some effort to enjoy.
In reality, it's utterly irresistible.
Part of that is because Nascimento is a master of melody. Forget the language barrier; a song as charming as "Lagrima do Sul" doesn't need a translation to make its musical point, because the childlike innocence of the tune speaks for itself. Thus, whether Nascimento is luxuriating in a ballad like "A Premiera Estrela" or simply delivering the wordless melody to "Vidro e Corte" he leaves the listener hanging on every note.
Granted, the album doesn't overwhelm the listener with the exuberance of Nascimento's 1977 album, "Milton," but the difference is less a matter of intensity than articulation. For instance, the version of "Raca" on "Milton" was powered by a raw blend of acoustic guitar and percussion, and bristled with energy; on "Encontros," the song takes on a smoother, upscale cast, grounding the beat with a burbling rhythm guitar and contrasting Nascimento's voice with hot alto sax obbligatos. But the essence of the song, and Nascimento's song, remains the same. MILTON NASCIMENTO -- "Encontros e Despedidas" (Polydor 827 638-1); appearing Sunday at the Carter Barron Amphitheater.