Saturday, 20 October 2018

Elza Soares ‎– Deus É Mulher (2018)

Style: MPB
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Polysom, Deckdisc

01.   O Que Se Cala
02.   Exu Nas Escolas
03.   Banho
04.   Eu Quero Comer Você
05.   Língua Solta
06.   Hienas Na TV
07.   Clareza
08.   Um Olho Aberto
09.   Credo
10.   Dentro De Cada Um
11.   Deus Há De Ser

A&R – João Augusto, Rafael Ramos
Co-producer – Kiko Dinucci, Marcelo Cabral, Rodrigo Campos, Romulo Fróes
Mastered By – Felipe Tichauer
Mixed By – Scotty Hard
Mixed By – Connor Schultze
Producer – Guilherme Kastrup
Producer – Bruno Pregos
Recorded By – Alejandra Luciani, Fábio Roberto

“Minha voz / Uso pra dizer o que se cala / O meu país / É meu lugar de fala” (“My voice / I use it to tell what’s kept quiet / My country / Is the place from where I speak” – “lugar de fala” is a safe and judgment-free place to talk for oppressed communities). Never short of provocative energy, which she’s showed since her 20s and her debut in Musica Popular Brasileira – MPB (“Popular Brazilian Music”), Elza Soares has kept the same team she’s had since her last groundbreaking album and put them on the field again. Because there’s a golden rule in futebol (“soccer”) as well as in music: never change a winning team. The coach being Rio-based Guilherme Kastrup, in charge of the production, arrangements and multiple instruments. On the field, in charge of arrangements and performance, the musical avant-garde of São Paulo: Marcelo Cabral on bass, Kiko Dinucci on guitars and keyboards (the pair play together in Metá Metá), Rodrigo Campos on cavaquinho and guitar, as well as other commendable talents, amongst them Mariá Portugal on drums, Maria Beraldo on horns, and lyricists Tulipa Ruiz, Rodrigo Campos and Romulo Frões. Notable guests on the album include the only-female and mainly Black percussion and chants group Ilú Obá de Min, the first Afro-Brazilian bloco de carnaval that appeared in São Paulo. The common point for these field players being that they’re in their 30s or early 40s, and their artistic freedom is as deep as their admiration for Elza Soares, their female leader; 40 years their elder. 
This admiration for Elza Soares runs so deep that it gives them the audacity to experiment the richest syncretism the Brazilian music scene has ever heard since Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso’s tropicália in the ‘60s. The team daringly ventures into the samba and bossa field – an easy task at first glance, but the real challenge is to make it sound modern – moving them into the more exotic sounds of post-punk, afrobeat and psychedelic rock; they dribble around the national championship of instruments (cavaquinho, classical guitar, violin, pandeiro, and samba percussions) as well as the international outsiders (rhythm box, synthesizers, distorted electric guitar). For the duration of the game, the Brazilian team offer their female coach a perfectly fitted strategy, allowing Elza her freedom to murmur, whisper, shout out and eventually scream, to express how happy she is to be alive as well as how she’s angered to see the promises of an inclusive and united society quickly faded away. The very society that the end of its dictatorship in 1985 had given a taste of. This very society that Lula da Silva had laboriously tried to bring about between 2003 and 2011, during his presidency. No one would argue that post-colonial and post-dictatorship Brazil is today experiencing a deep political and social crisis, and that its society contains almost all of the issues the world has or will have to cope with pretty soon. 
Religion, decolonization, sexuality, domestic violence, corruption… the veteran diva of the show spares no prisoners and speaks out loud on the album and on the stage, to represent the voices of the oppressed, at an age when her contemporaries tend to be more discreet (Gal Costa, Maria Bethânia, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, although the latter is known to be more activist when on stage). 
It can be heard on “Exú nas Escolas”, where she criticizes the dominating teachings of Catholicism at school, and advocates the importance of Afro-Brazilian religions and cultures, marginalized or made invisible. Or on “Banho”, penned by lyricist Tulipa Ruiz, where she pays tribute to two orixás figures that represent women and the water that comes out of their eyes, mouths and vaginas: “Eu não obedeço porque sou molhada” (“I won’t obey, because I’m all wet”). This mystic and sensual prayer/manifesto has become the unofficial anthem of the lusophone lesbian community. Or on “Eu Quero Comer Você” (“I want to fuck you”) where she explicitly talks of a woman’s sexuality with an infectious pride. Or on “Credo” where she assures that “love is a god that has nothing to do with religion”. Or on “Dentro de Cada Um” where she confronts both patriarchy, sexism and homophobia:
“[A mulher] vai sair de dentro de cada um
A mulher vai sair
E vai sair de dentro de quem for
A mulher é você.
De dentro da cara a tapa de quem já levou porrada na vida
De dentro da mala do cara que te esquartejou, te encheu de ferida
Daquela menina acuada que tanto sofreu e morreu sem guarida
Daquele menino magoado que não alcançou a porta de saída.”
[loose translation by the author]
“[The woman] will come out in everyone of us
The woman will come out
And will come out from anyone
The woman is you.
[The woman will come out]
Of the boldness of those already been beaten up,
Of the suitcase of the guy who destroyed you and filled you with pain
Of the girl who suffered so much and died without a lair
Of the hurting boy who did not find a way out.”
Deus é Mulher is a bible for transgression, a manifesto for activism addressed to the oppressed minorities of Brazil and anywhere else. This anti-reactionary time bomb should be placed into the hands of anyone who has the courage to fight. “Nós não temos mesmo sonho e opinião / Nosso eco se mistura na canção / Quero voz e quero o mesmo ar / Quero mesmo incomodar” she confesses in “Língua Solta”: “We don’t share the same dreams and opinions / Our echoes merge into this song / I want a voice and I want the same air / I really want to provoke.” Elza Soares and her team are in a league of their own, truly too dangerous to be let on the field of panem et circenses that has long ruled the society.
Kino Sousa  / Pan African Music

Steven Brown ‎– Half Out (1991)

Style: Modern Classical, Experimental, Synth-pop, Minimal
Formay: CD, Vinyl
Label: Les Disques Du Crépuscule, Materiali Sonori, LTM

1.   Decade
2.   A Quoi Ça Sert L'amour
3.   San Francisco
4.   The Thrill Has Gone
5.   Moaning Low
6.   In The Still Of The Night
7.   Voodo
8.   Out Of My Body
9.   Violorganni

Bass, Drum Programming – Nikolas Klau
Guitar – Chris Haskett
Keyboards – Ivan Georgiev
Synthesizer – Drem Bruinsma
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Harmonica – Luc Van Lieshout
Voice, Saxophone, Clarinet, Tape – Steven Brown
Mixed By – Gilles Martin
Producer – Nikolas Klau, Steven Brown

"His reeds recall the keening of John Surman or Jan Garbarek, his ravishingly simple grand piano the spaciousness of Satie. But when he plugs it in, his sequencer kicks like a burro. Brown is also a closet romantic. He has a penchant for lyrics that resemble automatic writing, and his gravity counterbalances Reininger's wackiness in Tuxedomoon. His fuck-off-and-die sublime brass/electro on Miles in Moskow, which blows both Lalo Schifrin and the Davis himself out of the water, is actually a Whitmanesque rumination on love. In fact, the entire CD (check his blowsy, cross-dressed cover of Billie Holliday's Moaning Low) seems to be an Imagist celebration of male-male romance"  The Wire (08/2005)
LTM Recordings
Not to minimize the great work that the LTM label has done dusting off the extensive back catalogs of labels like Factory and Les Disques du Crepuscule, but when I hear something like this Steven Brown album, it makes me wonder if their time and energy might be better spent on more worthwhile archival projects. 
Brown was, of course, a member of cult avant-garde band Tuxedomoon, the San Francisco collective that pulled up stakes and moved to Belgium in the mid-1980s. Last year LTM reissued a couple of albums by fellow Tuxedomoon alumnus Blaine L. Reininger, and it's actually a little weird how similar Brown and Reininger's solo material sounds, especially considering how little it resembles their work in Tuxedomoon. For their solo projects, both artists developed a distinctly MOR style of urbane, jazzy pop music with literate, world-weary lyrics. Luckily, Blaine L. Reininger's albums were saved by his prodigious talent on strings and his use of neo-baroque chamber quartet orchestrations. Steven Brown has no such saving grace however, and 1991's Half Out, his third solo album, suffers from "adult contemporary" blandness and an annoyingly overcomplicated production style. Each track is filled out with loads of superfluous compositional elements: keyboards, horns, emulators, synthesizers, strings, drum programming, accordion, guitars and backup vocals. It's all a bit exhausting, making relatively minimal tracks like the point-counterpoint "Violorganni" (a duet with Reininger) a welcome respite. For the majority of the album (and the four extraneous bonus tracks), Brown's music seems over-calculated and pseudo-sophisticated, from the tiresome opening monologue ("I've got a million things to say but I forgot. I could write a book but I lost my pen."), to the ill-advised Cole Porter cover ("In the Still of the Night"). In an effort to prove how intellectual and literate he is, Brown name drops Jean Cocteau, randomly breaks into French and Italian, and spins some incomprehensible yarn involving "Willy Loman with his Flemish Reader's Digest." Frankly, it's all a bit pompous, a collection of empty artistic gestures that don't seem terribly substantive. I seriously doubt I'll be giving Half Out another spin any time in the near future.

Fire! ‎– The Hands (2018)

Style: Free Jazz, Jazz-Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Rune Gramnofon

1.   The Hands
2.   When Her Lips Collapsed
3.   Touches Me With The Tips Of Wonder
4.   Washing Your Heart In Filth
5.   Up And Down
6.   To Shave The Leaves. In Red. In Black
7.   I Guard Her To Rest. Declaring Silence

Producer – Andreas Werliin, Fire!
Drums, Percussion, Effects – Andreas Werliin
Electric Bass, Double Bass – Johan Berthling
Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Bass Saxophone, Electronics – Mats Gustafsson

There are reasons to consider the 2018 release of The Hands as an important one for Fire! It was in 2008 that saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werlin first came together as a trio with the idea of a fresh approach to improvised music. Given the groups that the three were in at the time—Gustafsson in The Thing and others, Werlin in Wildbirds and Peacedrums, and Berthling in Angles—it was all too easy for Fire! to be branded as a supergroup, something that the group name, complete with that exclamation mark, did nothing to contradict. Their first album, You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago (Rune Grammofon, 2009) did not dispel such talk either; if anything, its mix of jazz and post-rock encouraged it. 
Despite the crispness of the trio's music, driven along by Berthling's bass, Fire! recordings have often not featured the trio alone, opting instead for collaborations with guest artists, including such luminaries as Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi on their second and third albums. In addition, from 2012 onwards there has been the added complication of the Fire! Orchestra, a star-studded ensemble of up to thirty players that was built around the trio, which has issued four albums to date and remains active. The upshot of all that activity is that The Hands is the first album for some years by the core trio Fire! 
The good news is that the album's seven tracks, recorded in May 2017, in Sickla, Stockholm, display all the qualities that led many listeners to love the trio back in 2009. Right from the start of the opening title track, the music is propelled by a very unjazzlike bass riff that owes more to heavy rock. When Gustafsson's sax enters the fray, it seems as if electric guitar could be just as appropriate. All of which is reminiscent of Cream bassist Jack Bruce's oft-repeated comment, "Cream was basically a free jazz trio with Eric [Clapton] playing the Ornette Coleman part without knowing it. We just didn't tell him he was Ornette Coleman." Well, Gustafsson isn't Ornette but at times he could pass for 1968 Clapton... and it is such blurring of boundaries by Fire! that is at the root of their popularity. As in any successful trio, be it jazz, rock or whatever, all three players are essential ingredients that fit together as a unified whole, each dependent on the other two. 
Together the seven tracks here total under thirty-seven minutes, the dark, heavy, nine-minute "To Shave the Leaves, in Red, in Black" being the only one to exceed five minutes. With Gustafsson deploying various saxophones plus electronics, Berthling on bass guitar or double bass, and Werlin employing feedback as well as percussion, there is plenty of scope to vary the soundscape as well as the mood and tempo, so the three are never close to getting into a rut. Along the way there are surprises too, including occasional sound samples such as the muffled voice that opens "When Her Lips Collapsed." The biggest surprise is saved until last; the closing track, "I Guard Her to Rest, Declaring Silence," is a slow-burning, brooding piece taken at a stately pace, allowing every note to be savoured. It is a terrific way to end a great album. Fire's best album yet? It would be almost impossible to argue otherwise...
John Eyles / All About Jazz