Bola Sete died 25 years ago, but the Samba Moon label run by his widow is still releasing new music. The Brazilian guitarist, whose birth name was Djalma de Andrade (Bola Sete means “7 ball” in Portuguese; when he was young, the 7 ball in Brazilian snooker was black, and Andrade was quite dark), went through several career phases, playing pop at home and jazz with Dizzy Gillespie and Vince Guaraldi before settling on the solo acoustic music that seduced John Fahey. Andrade’s 1972 LP, Ocean, which he gave to Fahey’s Takoma Records, was well matched with that label, because it really didn’t fit in anywhere else. Andrade’s music hinted at his Brazilian heritage and jazz, but also classical and folk stylings; it made sense that it came out on the same imprint that had figured out how to successfully market Leo Kottke and Fahey’s own solo excursions.
The home recordings collected on Crystal Garden suggest that when Andrade was off stage, he thought a lot about Brazil, a land he never returned to after leaving in 1959. Some of its tunes also show up on Ocean, but the approach here is different. It’s less beatific but by turns warmer and more pensive; he wasn’t trying to transport an audience, just amuse himself. “Folk Guitar” opens in a rush and then lags, as though he started out playing something that used to get them jumping at Carnaval and then got carried away for a moment by the memory. His Portuguese singing on “I See Your Face” feels a bit absentminded, like a note to self.
These examples might make this record sound self-indulgent, but it sure doesn’t play that way; instead, you get a taste of what it might have felt like to be a successful exile. Andrade didn’t go back to Brazil because he was afraid the government would pull his passport, and although he missed the place, he liked his life in America. There’s loss, but not too much bitterness, in his reveries on Crystal Garden.