2022, Part Four

Bruno Berle, No Reino Dos Afetos – After two solid albums—one solo, one with Troco em Bala—Northeasterner Berle immersed in the burgeoning Rio scene, took some lessons to heart and made a great one. The difference is in the detail. Where his first efforts put voice and melody first, with everything else serving to undergird those two, here the everything else gets is own moments to shine even as voice and melody remain dominant. Compared to the straightforward tunes on earlier albums, these songs are baroque. Guitar riffs are foreshortened samba style to jolt the sound. Keyboards and effects fill out arrangements to provide sonic depth. Percussion bubbles and trickles to move the music without overpowering it. The end results recall Lula Côrtes’ and Zé Ramalho’s Parêbirú, but where that masterpiece felt like a wonder-filled walk in the woods, this sounds like bedroom pop without the solipsistic depression. Small and intimate like the early days of pandemic isolation, the music hints not at loneliness, but at rediscovery of life and joy away from the hustle of capitalized existence. As bad as the pandemic was, Berle and producer Batata Boy capture some of the sense of reorientation it offered us and reminds us of better worlds we could build. Listen and buy here. Grade: A

Pedro Fonte, Filme do Tempo (2020) – First solo album from drummer Pedro Fonte , who has been active in Rio for several years, especially it’s indie scene. It sounds exactly as you would expect such an album to sound: upbeat and arty with a slightly anarchic glee pulsing through its bright, jagged sounds. A host of scene mainstays, inlcuding Ana Frango Elétrico, Antonio Neves, Gus Levy and Mãeana, join in. Fun. Listen and buy here. Grade: B

Josyara, ÀdeusdarÁ – Albums sometimes bear the weight of expectations. Josyara’s second album, Mansa Fúria, was one of those out-of-nowhere surprises that convinces you Brazil’s well of great music is bottomless. If 2020’s collaboration with Giovani Cidreira wasn’t as compelling, it was comforting that her parts were the best. But with ÀdeusdarÁ, she’s on her own, and I regret to report that this is no Mansa Fúria. The big difference is that this feels closer to a band album, where the predecessor put her guitar and voice upfront. Here percussion and synths and bass constantly threaten to bury that electrifying guitar. But once the initial disappointment passes, her strengths come back into hearing. There’s still plenty of guitar. The songs are light without being lightweight. She’s clearly thinking through how to sustain an artistically (and economically) viable creative career rather than settling on echoes of past greatness. So even if this isn’t as good as her last album, I’m really interested where she takes all of these promising tricks. Listen here. Grade B

MC Tha, Meu Santo É Forte – EP follow-up to her strong debut. Solid stuff if lighter and less compelling than the debut. But also worth your ear time. Listen here. Grade: B-

Marcus Neves, Modular Drone Session D – The sequel to Modular Drone Sessions B/C, which itself was a sequel to Modular Drone Session A, this is exactly as advertised. But where the early releases came in at a modest 20 and 26 minutes respectively, Neves and his collaborators push all the way to 40 here. And good for them. Dark ambient moods recall early ’70s Krautrock. I prefer the B/C release from last year, but there’s something strangely compelling and calming in the disquieting buzzes here, too. Listen and buy here. Grade: B-

Ninguém, Balanço Oculto Vol. 2 – Three more songs Compay Oliveira (d.b.a. Ninguém, a.k.a. nobody) showing how much he loves Jorge Ben. Ninguém’s evocation of Ben’s guitar is eerily on target. Not just the sound, but the way the riffs work. His voice can’t match Ben’s sweet one, and you wish he’d put out an actual album, but the seven songs he’s released over two EPs and a single certainly scratch an itch. Listen and buy here. Grade: B-

Nomade Orquestra, Na Terra das Primaveras – Continuing their sonic wanderings, this time the Nomade Orquestra’s exploration of the African diaspora sets foot firmly in Jamaica. Reggae’s always been a big part of the band’s mix, but never as centered as here, where they do ‘versions’ of songs from previous albums. As is their norm, crack instrumentalists craft exquisite sounds crying out for a focal point—a singer, a distinctive instrumental player—to anchor everything. Yet the chops are so good, it’s hard to dismiss them out right, and they do work up a nice groove. Plus, a quick a/b of the new and old versions has the newer usually coming out on top.  Still, frustrating that they can’t find that extra bit of focus to push this strong material toward the excellence it circles around. Listen here. Grade: B

Tulipa Ruiz, Habilidades Extraordinárias – Over the first three albums, the Ruizes, Tulipa and brother Gustavo, never relaxed as they pushed themselves in new directions to avoid any hint of stale. And then, excepting the excellent self-covers on Tu, they went silent. Seven years later they return with a title brag, extraordinary skills, that captures both the good and bad of an album that honors their achievements without building on them. They are extraordinary talents. Tulipa’s voice is clear and charismatic, but she leavens it with moments of anarchic glee that thrillingly threaten to explode songs. Gustavo’s guitar and arranging skills remind that he was one of the secret ingredients that made DonaZica such a compelling band. But skills can turn merely skillful instead of inspired, and that’s what happens on this very good, but definitely not great, album. Many tracks sound like leftovers from earlier albums. Hooks aren’t plentiful enough. Nothing leaves you guessing where they will go next. Yet because those skills are pretty extraordinary, they nearly get away with it. There’s not a bad track on the album, and eventually you do here some (“Novelos”, the rocking “Vou Te Botar no Pau”) you wouldn’t want to leave off a career overview. But, in the end, the album plays more like a friend reunion that get stuck in the past rather than points toward any future. Which is OK sometimes, even if it misses the frisson that made the friendship in the first place. Listen here. Grade: B

Various Artists, Hidden Waters: Strange and Sublime Sounds of Rio De Janeiro – Another compilation from Latin music website Sounds and Colours, this one digs into the Rio de Janeiro scene that’s developed over the past couple of decades. Lighter and brighter than the “dirty samba” associated with São Paulo, the knottiness of the music feels more playful. Smartly picking through the scene even as it includes artists I want nothing to do with (sorry Letrux) or picks the wrong track from an artist, the compilers bring together a potential mishmash into an effective summation that points to future paths for listening. They appropriately lead with scene queen Ana Frango Elétrico while putting critical scene figure Kassin a couple of tracks later, and giving Thiago Nassif the prime slot on the second side. Of course I would have done it differently. (No Moreno Veloso? There are better Ava Rocha and Negro Leo tracks. Etc.) But that’s how these things go, and Sounds and Colours has created a welcome primer on a scene that seems to be entering its most fruitful period. Buy here. Grade: B+

Advertisement

Joyce Moreno

Born Jan. 31, 1948 in Rio de Janeiro, Joyce Silveira Palhano de Jesus began her recording career in 1964 with some vocals on Pacifico Mascarenhas’ Sambacana album. By 19 she was creating waves with her song “Mi Disseram”, which scandalized some with its forthright female perspective. (Moreno says she had no intention of scoring political points. She just wanted to sing a song from her experiences, and some Brazilian men were offended!) The song’s success landed her a recording contract with Phillips and started a career that is still going more than 50 years and about 40 studio albums later.

While not a blatantly political artist, she was caught up in the unrest caused by the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Her early start seemed to get sidetracked in the 1970s with few official releases as she devoted time to raising her daughters, and not until 1980’s Feminina did she seem to recover her commercial and artistic footing, although that narrative is more complicated. By the late ’90s she had established a strong international profile that’s helped keep her career going despite difficulties in the Brazilian market going back to the 1980s.

Rather than reviewing all her albums separately, I’m going to break her career into periods with comments on albums as fits. All the studio albums will be graded. Most of her work can be found on streaming services, with some harder to find ones on her YouTube channel. Bandcamp also has much of her recent work available.

Early Years

As a performer, Joyce starts pretty much fully formed. Her singing is charismatic and warm. Like Nara Leão, she gets by more on smarts and presence as she does technical mastery. But the artist who will be isn’t fully here yet. The songwriter and guitar player are submerged within songs and arrangements that chase trends rather than set her agenda. The self-titled debut is a solid, late bossa nova album that might have sounded more impressive a few years earlier before jovem guarda and tropicalismo began to change the rules. Her sophomore album, and final album with Phillips, gamely tries to catch up with those trends without doing anything particularly distinctive. Nothing earth shattering, but not merely juvenilia to ignore either.

  • Joyce, Joyce (1968) B
  • Joyce, Encontro Marcado (1969) B

Peak Years

With turmoil at home and professional uncertainty, Joyce joined up with Luiz Eça’s La Sagrada Familia group where she would team with collaborators who would shape her future: Nelson Angelo, Naná Vasconcelos and Maurício Maestro. The collective’s one album was recorded in Mexico away from interference by dictatorship censors and political pressures. The music goes big and showy, with a slightly Vegas-y feel, but a musical, especially rhythmic, sharpness that escapes the shlock of that style.

From there she, Angelo and Vasconcelos joined with Toninho Horta and Novelli in A Tribo, which also backed Joyce on her self-titled EP. The short-lived group explored the psychedelic Brazilian rock that emerged in the wake of the tropicalistas. With only five songs, plus the four on the EP, the group didn’t leave much of a recorded legacy, but what they did is deeply impressive. A lot of Brazilian musicians struggled to make rock’s harder edged sounds fit well with their lighter, samba-influenced sensibilities, but A Tribo had no such issues. Fusing electric noise to Brazilian polyrhythms, they brought together the two sonic worlds effectively by breaking art rock without pretension. The nine songs they recorded would rank as one of the finest early Brazilian rock albums if it had been released as a unit. (Joyce’s work with A Tribo and her first EP as well as earlier tunes are helpfully collected on the hard-to-find Curriculum compilation. Skip the first four tracks and then listen to her develop into a formidable talent.)

After A Tribo, Joyce and then-husband Angelo recorded an album, although Joyce told Joshua Minsoo Kim (in his excellent interview in the November 2022 issue of Wire) that she had little input on the record and doesn’t really consider it one of her own. Nonetheless, her voice is all over the record and the pair created a hauntingly beautiful psychedelic folk album.

Focusing on raising her daughters, Joyce withdrew from active recording, but the end of her marriage to Angelo sent her back to work. On a tour in Italy she was offered the chance to record an album. Since she didn’t have songs prepared, she decided to cover friends who had faced struggles with censors back home. The result, Passarinho Urbano, is one of the finest Brazilian albums of the 1970s. At the center in a way she was not on any of her previous albums, the very good singer turned out to also be a superb guitar player. With little more than that voice and guitar, Joyce ran through 18 songs in just under 32 minutes with an intensity similar to the Ramones’ early albums (while, of course, sounding nothing like them). Add in a terrific album cover and you have classic.

And then, seemingly, nothing until 1980’s Feminina. But that’s where the story gets complicated. In 2009 and 2022, Joyce had albums released that were completed in the ’70s but shelved. Put those two albums in her ’70s run and you have a very different portrait emerging of the artist as a young woman.

Recorded in Paris in 1976, Visions of the Dawn teamed Joyce with longtime friends Naná Vasconcelos and Maurício Maestro. The album is split in two with the first side focusing on songs, while the musicians stretch out on instrumentals/mostly wordless singing on the second half. The song side’s five tracks are simply stunning. Each features dazzling guitar from Joyce bent to the needs of the tune. And what tunes. Joyce wraps her warm voice around every memorable melody as her bandmate sgently propel the songs underneath the fleet guitar. If someone asked me why I love Brazilian music, I could just tell that person to listen to the A-side of this album. Except for the upbeat “Carnavalzinho”, the second side is a different beast. Floating by so slowly they are almost static, the tracks feel like those gently distorted moments between being awake and falling asleep when reality slips away into dream. But what should have been another triumph was left in the vault until 2009.

Joyce then went to New York, where some live dates turned into a second, shelved album, Natureza. Recorded in 1977 with Maurício Maestro and produced by Claus Ogerman, the album included “Feminina”, which would become the title track of her commercial break through on her 1980 album. But where the later version clocks in at 3:48, this one goes to 11:25. The longer version captures Joyce at her most ambitious. Stretching out she never loses sight of the song. Like Nile Rodgers, she disciplines her string pyrotechnics to what advances the music around her while still managing to impress with her tricks. It’s a very different type of groove, but groove it does. While “Feminina” is the standout, Joyce still has plenty of in her arsenal. The tracks generally combine the dreaminess of the second side of Visions of Dawn with the songfulness of the first side. “Coração Sonhador” drags, and every now and then Ogerman’s orchestral arrangements get too heavy handed, but mostly Joyce demonstrates how potent her singing/guitar-playing/songwriting hat trick is. (“Moreno” celebrates percussionist Tutty Moreno, whom she worked with for the first time here, and whom she would eventually marry and raise her daughters with.) After being finished the album was shelved and lost until a copy was found with Ogerman, but not until his death did Joyce work out financial arrangements that allowed for the record to be released.

Of course, none of this was known at the time. Instead, you had a four-year silence until Feminina. But imagine a world in which these two excellent albums had been released. One where those nine early A Tribo/Joyce tracks had been released as an album (which would be at least an A-). Now you can imagine a world in which Joyce was in the running for Brazilian artist of the decade. Jorge Ben would still beat her, but I’d have to think/listen for a bit before I declared winners in contests with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento or Tom Zé. That’s not the world we got, however.

Instead, Joyce burst back on the scene in 1980 with the strong, if less ambitious, Feminina. While some of the adventurousness of those two unreleased albums is missing, she’s still in good form on the guitar-voice-songwriting front. She leads with re-recordings of the unreleased tracks, which kick the album off in high gear. But even the newer tracks are solid and, with “Aldeia de Ogum” equaling the best of the ’70s works. But you also here her sonics getting drawn toward the more mawkish sounds that infected so much MPB (and Anglophone classic rock, for that matter) in the ’80s.

Those trends continued on her next three albums. The writing on Água e Luz is a little stronger—or maybe there are just more upbeat songs that give her guitar a chance to shine. Tardes Cariocas finds a nice balance, and includes the ambitious “Baracumbara”, but, a couple of nice songs aside, Saudade do Futuro sounds like she’s running out of steam. Or maybe she had just used up the store of songs she worked on in the ’70s. Either way she needed a change of pace.

Interest in Joyce’s music surged in the mid-’90s thanks to some use of her songs by DJs in clubs in the UK. British label Mr. Bongo released a summary of the albums above (plus one later track) as The Essential Joyce. The shelved albums were not represented, but it included tracks from the 1971 EP, the Nelson Angelo collaboration, Passarinho Urbano and her first four albums of the ’80s. Since much of this is worth owning anyway, you might wonder about the value of this collection, but as a listen it’s fantastic, and grabs just the right tracks from her weaker albums of the period.

  • Joyce, Joyce EP (1971), B+
  • Joyce, Curriculum (rec. 1964-1972, rel. 2011), A-
  • Nelson Angelo e Joyce, Nelson Angelo e Joyce (1972), A-
  • Joyce, Passarinho Urbano (1976), A
  • Joyce, Naná Vasconcelos and Maurício Maestro, Visions of the Dawn (rec. 1976, rel. 2009), A-
  • Joyce with Maurício Maestro, Natureza (rec. 1977, rel. 2022), A-
  • Joyce, Feminina (1980), B
  • Joyce, Água e Luz (1981), B+
  • Joyce, Tardes Cariocas (1984), B
  • Joyce, Saudade do Futuro (1985), C+
  • Joyce, The Essential Joyce 1970-1996 (1997), A

Recalibrating

Starting with the Roberto Silva collaboration, Joyce began to dabble in tribute albums, aimed for the English language market, and tried to figure out a way forward commercially and artistically. The decade of music this period covers is the weakest of her career, but almost every album sports winning a track or two, and the ones where she writes songs always have something comp-worthy. (“Arrebenta”, from Linguas e Amores, sounds like a lost Jorge Ben track from A Tábua da Esmeralda and ranks as one of her finest songs.) The sounds of these albums are all over the place, from more traditional to deeply immersed in the sounds of the times. There’s not so much a sense of progression as one of wandering while figuring out where to go next.

  • Joyce e Roberto Silva, Wilson Batista—O Samba Foi Sua Glória (1986), C+
  • Joyce, Tom Jobim–Os Anos 60 (1987), C
  • Joyce, Negro Demais No Coração (1988), C
  • Joyce, Music Inside (1990), B-
  • Joyce, Linguas e Amores (1991), C+
  • Joyce, Revendo Amigos (1994), B-
  • Joyce, Delirios de Orfeu (1994), B
  • Joyce e Toninho Horta, Sem Vôce (1995), C
  • Joyce, Ilha Brasil (1996), B-

The Long Haul

Coincidentally (or perhaps not!), the release of Mr. Bongo’s The Essential Joyce drew a line under her career to that point. What followed from the period of wandering after her peak years was a long stretch of mature works that wouldn’t surpass earlier highs, but re-established Joyce—who started working as Joyce Moreno halfway into this period—as a dependable creative force. She garnered a Latin Grammy nomination in 2000 for the Elis Regina tribute Astronauta, which is her strongest tribute work. She built on that success with 1999’s Hard Bossa, where she really settled into the style that has defined her since, and followed that up with a string of consistently good albums—the worst fall down to the level of average—that continues to this year.

What’s striking about most of the albums from this period is how interchangeable they sound. I don’t mean that in a critical way. After 30 years of exploring, Moreno finds the sound she wants and sticks with it. That sound—light and jazzy with a strong bossa lean—conjures visions of clubs with small tables, dim lights, fancy cocktails and sharp dressers. She embraces the feel of how bossa nova was received in Western contexts with no irony or embarrassment. She pares back most of the ’80s sonics for a leaner, cleaner sound that allows the focus to go to her guitar and voice. That move brings out her strengths. Especially nice is how she gives herself space to show off on guitar without being showy. Moreno is one of the finest guitarists to emerge in a musical culture that’s produced lots of them. No reason to bury those chops under dense arrangements.

The downside of the consistency is that nothing really stands out. You could pick almost any of these records out of a random list and get the same pleasure from it, while listening to them all can sometimes get a bit samey. Even then, she’ll pull you out of complacency with some nifty guitar, a nicely sung phrase or a killer hook. At this point she’s figured out how to make music so well she never really stumbles even if she moves beyond my personal tastes. Her body of work is crying out for a career spanning compilation. As good as the Mr. Bongo one is, she’s done so much good stuff since that merits more attention. I do have my favorites below, but they aren’t substantially better than the ones I rate a notch lower, and there is a sold A-level single disc compilation spread throughout these average to very good albums.

  • Joyce, Astronauta (1998), B
  • Joyce, Hard Bossa (1999), B
  • Joyce, Tudo Bonito (2000), B
  • Joyce, Gafiera Moderna (2001), B
  • Joyce, Bossa Duets (2003), B
  • Joyce & Banda Maluca, Just a Little Bit Crazy (2004), B+
  • Joyce & Dori Caymmi, Rio Bahia (2005), B-
  • Joyce featuring Tutty Moreno, Samba Jazz e Outras (2007), B-
  • Joyce Moreno & João Donato, Aquarius (2009), B+
  • Joyce, Slow Music (2009), C+
  • Joyce Moreno, Rio (2011), C+
  • Joyce Moreno, Tudo (2012), B
  • Joyce Moreno, Raiz (2015), B-
  • Joyce Moreno and Kenny Werner, Poesia (2015), C
  • Joyce Moreno, Cool (2015), C+
  • Joyce Moreno, Palavra e Som (2017), B+
  • Joyce Moreno, Fiz Uma Viagem: Songs of Dorival Caymmi (2017), B-
  • Joyce Moreno, 50 (2018), B-
  • Joyce Moreno e Alfredo del Penho, Argumento: Canções de Sidney Miller (2018), C+
  • Joyce Moreno, Brasileiras Canções (2022), B+

Listeners and Readers

I normally write about music and musicians here. But neither music nor musicians float separately from a wider world, especially the wider world of listeners and readers who build audience and community around art. So today I want to focus on that world and on one reader/listener in particular.

I learned Friday mid-day that my friend Richard Cobeen had unexpectedly passed away Thursday night. We first encountered each other at Robert Christgau’s MSN Expert Witness blog, where a community of commentators sprouted up. Back then I was more aware of him than engaged with him, but when Christgau’s blog there ended the community traversed to Facebook before fracturing without Christgau to hold it together. In that process, Richard and I ended up in the same shard, and he went from person who posted intriguing things to someone whose friendship I treasured.

He’d lived an interesting life: college dropout, stay-at-home dad, back to college to become a grade school teacher where he taught kids how to love music and culture along with their academic skills. (If you are interested in his thoughts on teaching music, watch this video presentation. He kills it.) That path gave him insights into life that more traditional track people like myself sometimes missed. Although it was a love for music and Robert Christgau that first united us, I was soon swept up into his reveries on movies, food, cocktails (and I don’t drink!) and even sports. He loved life. He loved what it had to offer. He saw its pleasures not just as a means for self-satisfaction, but as a way to build community with likeminded people.

We bonded over Saint Etienne, Kid Creole and Prince. More relevant to this blog, we bonded over his burgeoning interest in Brazilian music, Marisa Monte and Jorge Ben in particular. I’d like to think I played the key role in convincing him that Ben was a world-class artist, but I just shared the music that made the case. He definitely helped me make better sense of the African musics I’ve always struggled to get my ears around.

As with the rest of my music group friends, Richard was a big supporter of Brazil Beat. I don’t have that kind of connection to most of my readers, of course, but Richard’s passing reminds me how grateful I am that anyone cares what I think. Each hit confirms that maybe this obsession of the past five-and-a-half years is worth the effort it takes to maintain.

Brazil Beat has lost a reader, but more importantly I’ve lost a friend, and the world has lost a truly great person. His life was a testimony to how those things society tends to dismiss as secondary (art, food, etc.) are actually at the heart of what makes living good, because the friendships built around those things can transcend all kinds of barriers, including physical ones. We never actually met in person. But over a dozen years we had formed a genuine friendship online (just ask the spouses/partners who know all the group members by name!), and in the last seven or so I communicated with him about these kinds of things and more nearly every day.

I’ll miss him deeply. However, I’ll mourn him not be retreating from the world, but by trying to live more fully in it, because that’s the lesson he taught me. Enjoy life. Enjoy music and art and food and sport. Most importantly, treasure those closest to you as he did his family and friends and students. And maybe, if you are interested, listen to this playlist assembled by another music friend who took a list of Richard’s favorite songs to make this. And what do you know: it has a Brazilian song I hadn’t heard until he introduced it to me.

2022, Part Three

Afroito, Açuda – Four songs in the same vein as last year’s Menga with perhaps a bit more autotune and club feel to the northeastern rhythms, or maybe it just feels that way in this compact 12-minute form. Listen here. Grade B

Filarmônica de Paságarda, PSSP – Six years since Algorritmos. Long enough to wonder if they were still an act. Leader Marcelo Segreto released a strong EP in 2020, which could have signaled a solo career, but instead they were settling down to record just as the pandemic hit. On their fourth album, they are up to their usual tricks. One mid-record song ends quickly and leaves you with several minutes’ silence. Another hooks its rhythms to a buzzing phone that will have you grabbing your own the first few times you hear it. As vocalists explore the past and present of their beloved São Paulo, the instrumentalists hook you in with humor and smarts. For that matter, the vocalists are pretty funny themselves sometimes, too. The smart ass shtick can really work when you nail down the smart thing. (Full disclosure: I backed the crowdfunding for this album.) Listen here. Grade: B+

Höröyá, Gri Gri Bá – Their only real rival in the Latin afrobeat world is Newen Beat. Höröyá has two big advantages. First, in terms of musicians and instruments, it’s a genuine fusion of Africa and Brazil. Second, where so many of the others think afrobeat is about instrumental prowess and solos, Höröyá gets that the power of the music lies in its collective achievements. Gestalt over fetishization of the individual gives this music a heft lacking in the rivals. Solos do happen, but they fit into a conversation groove with the other players rather than float above them awaiting applause for instrumental pyrotechnics. This music hits hard. Rhythms and brass punch do a one-two on your ears. It’s actually kind of wearying at times, but in a good way. Listen here. Grade: B+

Meridian Brothers, Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Reancimiento – A collaboration with a non-existent lost salsa band whom leader Elbis Álvarez rediscovered—but not really since they don’t exist—in a church. All of which is just a joke to hook a mutant salsa album with social commentary. In other words, it’s a fairly typical Meridian Brothers album. Only Álvarez has been on something of a roll since 2017’s ¿Dónde Estás María?. Here the songs don’t get sidetracked into experiments that misfire. There are plenty of sonic hijinks aimed at making the music difficult, I mean fun, but the rhythms are so strong and the songs so good that the penchant for mischief doesn’t undermine them. Or maybe the songs seem clearer because I saw them in concert and there the stuff really took off. Weird pleasures in the best way. The only real knock is it isn’t released on CD. Listen and buy here. Grade: A-

Salma e Mac, Salma e Mac (2021) and Voo LivreCarne Doce founders Macloys Aquino and Salma Jô return to the beginning and record as a duo. The self-titled EP snuck past me last year. Seven tracks. Four re-record Carne Doce songs to which they add three new ones. The four remakes work fine in part because Aquino and Jô have only gotten better at their craft in the decade since they started, so the interplay of voice and guitar thrives in the intimacy here. The three new ones highlight samba influences less prevalent on the Carne Doce records. But that was just a warmup. On Voo Livre, they again remake a couple of songs while unveiling new ones. Of the two remakes, “Cetapensã” is nearly unrecognizable as it shifts to a sunny, relaxed vibe, while “Hater” loosens up to slither by. The songs are in some ways livelier than Carne Doce songs as Aquino leans into samba and classic MPB riffs. Jô quietly, subtly continues to establish herself as one of the finer current singers of Brazilian song. She won’t bowl you over like Tulipa Ruiz, but technically and emotionally she focuses her voice to sell the music with a mumble here or a stretched vowel there. With Kassin’s shimmering and glistening production brightening the sound, track after track jumps out at you with delightful details: that Lô Borges riff that opens “Na Pele”, the dreamy vocal of the title track, the Narada Michael Walden funk of “Sobremesa”. At 22 minutes, they leave you wanting more, but what they give is as delicious as anything these tasty artists have provided. Listen here. Grades: Salma e Mac, B; Voo Livre, A-

Sambas do Absurdo, Sambas do Absurdo, Vol. 2 – In which an apparent one-off become a group. Rodrigo Campos’ composition and arranging styles remain central in this collaboration with Gui Amabis and Juçara Marçal even moreso than on the first disc. Elegantly dense arrangements decorate gentle sambas as the three singers take turns exploring Brazil’s version of the existential crises weakening so many democracies. As has been true of Campos’ work recently. the subtlety of the songwriting and arranging risks floating off into the ether unnoticed. I must have listened to this more than dozen times before it did anything but frustrate. But, as is also true of his recent work, it’s uncommonly beautiful once you learn to hear it. Amabis hasn’t been this convincing since his first solo album, while Marçal—whose turn here might shock fans she won with last year’s abrasive solo album—shows off the versatile voice that sings in so many different styles. Listen here. Grade: B+

Sessa, Estrela AcesaMore melancholy for people who emphasize the mood in mood music. Sessa still writes and performs well enough, but when I focus in, the sameness of the tracks can irritate. In the background, however, the hazy sonics and lulling melodies are genuinely beautiful. Sometimes a pretty surface is enough. Listen and buy here. Grade: B