Brazil Beyond Bossa
LITA Records reissues classic Marcos Valle albums
by Allen Thayer
Brazil’s recorded musical output is second only to the U.S. in volume, depth and diversity, but we North Americans are just beginning to understand and appreciate Brazil’s musical offerings beyond Carmen Miranda, bossa nova, Tropicália, and the Lambada.
Perhaps Os Mutantes blew your mind, then you started grooving to one of the many Brazilian Beats compilations, and Elis Regina and Tom Jobim’s duet album became your favorite Sunday afternoon tea soundtrack. What could you possibly be missing?
Well, chances are you’ll need some João Donato and Marcos Valle for a truly nutritious and appropriately sumptuous Brazilian banquet.
Donato is the link between the architects of Bossa Nova (Jobim, Gilberto, Lyra, and Moraes) and the experimental trailblazers that followed, Valle prime among them. A brilliant pianist and composer, Donato had just returned from backing João Gilberto on a 1962 European tour when he recorded the album Muito À Vontade using the same rhythm section (bassist Netto and drummer Milton Banana) that he’d been on tour with. The intimacy of the musicians is immediately apparent on this sublime instrumental set, considered to be one of the first successful syntheses of authentic Brazilian music with jazz. The album, released in the U.S. three years later as Sambou Sambou, has just been reissued by British label Él in a single-CD pairing with Dave Pike’s superb Bossa Nova Carnival, an album comprised entirely of Donato compositions. (Él is also giving you the chance to reach one step further back along the musical chain with a couple of Joao Gilberto collections whose quality is akin to a fine Cabernet, only improved with age.)
Marcos Valle, the young upstart, is the perfect synthesis of three favorite Brazilian styles: fuzz, funk, and frivolity. It’s exactly this eclectic mixing of styles that is the main reason for Marcos’s continued obscurity worldwide—despite the fact that anyone reading this right now has surely heard and likely can hum a Marcos Valle song (Walter Wanderly and countless others covered Valle’s “Summer Samba (So Nice)” in the mid-’60s).
Like a Brazilian cross between Burt Bacharach and Stevie Wonder, Marcos Valle marries sophisticated, modern songs with bold and creative instrumentation, production and subject matter. He wrote and performed brilliantly catchy pop ditties alongside tender bossa ballads and forward-thinking funky fusion. Never allowing himself to try the same style twice, his four albums from the early 1970s, originally released on Odeon Records, represent his critical and commercial peak (barring the aforementioned brief international hit) and are being released for the first time in the U.S. by Light in the Attic Records. Over forty years ago, Marcos went on a creative tear with his lyric-writing brother Paulo Sergio and countless sessions players and band members producing these four albums in rapid succession, each one radically different than the other and all legendary albums in the annals of Brazilian pop music.
Beginning with 1970’s self-titled album, which features the up-and-coming Brazilian fusion-rock group Som Imaginario, Marcos blazed a new trail in Brazilian pop music, effortlessly bringing the sophistication and sentiment of bossa nova into a modern, post-jazz marketplace. In 1971 Marcos released one of his finest career albums, the Brazilian pop masterpiece Garra featuring the cream of the crop of Brazil’s studio musicians and arrangers including Dom Salvador, Robertinho da Siva, Geraldo Vespar, Osmar Milito and naturally Paulo Sergio on lyrics. Vento Sul followed in 1972 and finds the brothers Valle exploring harder rock styles and counter-culture themes using another ascending Brazilian rock group O Terço as their band. This album is Marcos’s most experimental, but also one of the most rewarding upon repeat listens. If Garra is Marcos’s Talking Book then 1973’s Previsão do Tempo is his Songs in the Key of Life, however in an efficient single LP format. The brilliant abundance of earlier albums like Garra is focused and simplified on this classic album that brings the melodic sophistication of the bossa nova to the seventies with a sound more similar to Herbie’s Headhunters than Getz/Gilberto. Marcos’s nurtured the promising trio session musicians Jose Roberto Bertrami, Ivan Conti & Alex Malheiros throughout this album, encouraging them to strike out on their own, which they did shortly thereafter as Azymuth (nee Azimuth).
Light in the Attic Records is lovingly reissuing these four classic albums on CD and gatefold LP with extensive liner notes culled from hours of interviews with Marcos as well as lyrics in Portuguese and translated into English. Marcos Valle (1970) and Garra hit in January with Vento Sul and Previsão do Tempo following this month.
If you find yourself hungry for another course in the never-ending banquet of Brazilian music, look no further than these fine releases.