Black Rio is a weirdly compelling compilation that unearths a scene and phenomenon so far underground that only Brazilian music historians knew it existed until now. The excellent liner notes are fascinating in explaining the historical formation of the movement, the vital role of sound system dances playing artists like James Brown, and how it all fit in the social/political/cultural context of Brazil's military dictatorship during the 1970s. What's more open to debate is the quality of the music. Black Rio certainly confounds chronology by opening with "Melô Da Tagarela" (aka "Rappers Delight") done as an instrumental -- which means horn solos over the bassline created by Chic's Bernard Edwards that's the most archetypal one since the '60s Motown and Stax classics. Several tracks sound like early '70s soul-funk with nothing that stamps them as Brazilian -- the horn riffs and lead bass riff on União Black's title track sound a bit like early Kool & the Gang, and Gershon King's "Uma Chance" has a certain Jimmy Castor appeal. Jorge Ben's "Comanche" has the first real Brazilian feel, but then it's also the first piece with a song feel rather than just riff and groove, soul-style. Banda Black Rio's "Gafieira Universal" is a Brazilian-flavored instrumental with choppy polyrhythms and horns leading the way, while Orlandivo goes the mellow MPB route on "Onde Anda O Meu Amor" with vocals, flutes, and mellow electric piano chords. Trio Mocotó's "Nagô" rocks out pretty well once the organ solo takes over from an Afro-chant and strum/scratch rhythm guitar, while Antonio Carlos e Jocafi's "Kabaluere" kicks it behind a rowdy lead guitar and nice rising chant hook. And the only thing wrong with instrumentals like Eklipse Soul's "Psicose" or Dom Salvador e Abolição's "Som, Sangue e Raça" is that the riffs and grooves are strong enough to keep going longer. Black Rio is certainly an interesting volume -- it's good that it exists, even if the track info is buried in fine print at the end of the booklet and individual musician credits are missing in action. But it's certainly more for Brazilian music fanatics or searchers for offbeat soul-funk sounds -- the singer on Manito's "Na Baixa da Sapateiro" struggling with "I miss my love" in English is pretty funny in a good sort of way. For casual fans, there isn't any must-have landmark of Brazilian music or even songs that stick -- it's mostly an hour's worth of Brazilians playing in their funky soul garages decades ago.
AllMusic Review by Don Snowden