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Seu Jorge and Almaz - Seu Jorge and Almaz

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Artist: Seu Jorge and Almaz

Album: Seu Jorge and Almaz

Label: Now-Again

Review date: Jul. 27, 2010

Brazilian singer/songwriter/actor Seu Jorge (né Jorge Mário da Silva) is best known stateside for his charming and creative covers, most notably the acoustic set of David Bowie tunes that accompanied Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Which makes it no secret why ears perked when a re-imagining of Roy Ayers’ sweltering synth-groove “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” started circulating. Not to mention, it was being released by knowledgeable L.A. funk imprint Now-Again Records. Those curious were treated with a much more straight-ahead rendition than Jorge’s previous affairs, but it’s hard to complain about a psychedelic-samba cover a soul-jazz classic laced with one of the sexiest baritones in the game.

The full-length following the single is a collaboration between Jorge and fellow Brazilians, Almaz. Consisting of guitarist Lucio Maria, drummer Pupillio and bassist/composer Antonio Pinto (the man behind the soundtracks to City of God, Central Station and a number of other Brazilian films), the band provides one sultry groove after another of samba-soul singed with electric guitar flares and plenty of psychedelic effects. Producer Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys, Tone Loc, Super Furry Animals) also makes his presence greatly felt; each instrument brightly whips around the other, sometimes enveloping and sometimes supporting Jorge’s soul-piercing vocals.

Seu Jorge and Almaz is a collection of covers that may lack the instantaneous hook of “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” but certainly delivers a much more invigorating and sustaining listen than the leaked single. For example, the album opens with a hypnotic and rather moving take on a lesser renown Jorge Ben cut from 1974’s A Tábua de Esmeralda, “Errare Humanum Est.” Jorge — whose vocal presentation is not unlike Ben’s soaring croon, though significantly more scruffy — and Almaz strip away the springy acoustic rhythm, strings and women’s chorus of the original for a thumping, tom-heavy rhythm and a searing electric guitar that resonates for days. It’s samba-soul, but Jorge’s delivery is so concerned and expressive that you can’t help but derive a deeper meaning than just beaches and palm trees.

The covered material is far-reaching. The band reworks mostly Brazilian tunes, including Tim Maia’s “Cristina,” Tribo Massáhi’s “Pai João,” Noriel Vielal’a “Saudosa Bahia,” Paula Lima’s “Cirandar,” Baden Powell’s “Tempo De Amor,’ João Donato’s “Cala Boca, Menino” and Nelson Cavaquinho’s “Juízo Final.” It’s a diverse group of songsmiths coming from a range of Brazilian styles, but most of the songs date back to the early 1970s and are given a hefty dose of low end and sexy ambiance.

You also get an interesting takes of Kraftwerk’s “Das Modell” (they add some soul to the original’s otherworldly quirk) and Cane and Abel’s “Girl You Move Me.” As far as his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You,” it’s a hit-or-miss affair. With a bed of subtle psychedelic reggae-funk providing a groovy backdrop, Jorge keeps the chorus infectious despite its more relaxed (or lethargic, if you prefer) presentation. But something goes astray during the verses. He isn’t really missing notes, but they are soured a bit by his particular vocal timbre. It’s a solid attempt, but Jorge’s voice is not even in the same orbit as Michael’s.

As a complete package, it’s an enjoyable and consistent listen, again and again. Jorge’s a good songwriter, but he separates himself from the pack when taking on a project like this. And with Almaz’s excellent ear for unhurried psychedelic funk supporting such a soulful voice, you get the kind of Brazilian-soul that can please fans from both sides of the conglomeration. Use it as an introduction to a few new artists, or as a reinvigoration of a few classic tunes.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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