Jorge Ben Jor's appearance Tuesday night at the Birchmere Band Stand stage didn't start off as one would expect from a Brazilian music legend. Walking quickly onstage and jumping right into a samba-rock hybrid, this veteran vocalist-guitarist and his eight-piece band rushed through the number as if they were in a hurry to finish the show and catch a plane. Jor, wearing dark sunglasses, didn't appear inspired, and his group looked and sounded like a cliched 1970s rock and soul cover band, albeit one versed in samba.
But about four songs into the set, Jor loosened up, and the band, although occasionally still sounding formulaic, began to emphasize its Rio roots. Although covering different phases of his 40-year career, Jor focused largely on his samba soul. His compositions in this style, faster than the bossa nova most associate with Brazil, meld maracatu parade rhythms, beautiful choruses, a distinctively Brazilian groove and '60s-style R&B and rock. On "Filho Maravilha," Jor joyously sang a pop melody worthy of his early idol Joao Gilberto, while the band added clanging carnival percussion, Blood, Sweat and Tears-style horn work and bouncy rhythms.
As Jor gained energy, so did the mostly Brazilian crowd, which exuberantly chanted soccer-style or sang along with Jor on both deceptively simple "la, la, la's" and intricate Portuguese phrasing. For "Gostosa," his ode to sexy women, Jor invited a number of women onstage to dance. They gleefully stuck around to sing and shake for several closing numbers, including his gloriously hummable "Taj Mahal," which Rod Stewart later watered down for "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"
-- Steve Kiviat