Seu Jorge / Almaz

Seu Jorge & Almaz

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By 2010, the name Seu Jorge was known to those besides Brazilian music cognoscenti, thanks mainly to his role in Wes Anderson's Life Aquatic, in which he sang covers, in Portuguese, of classic David Bowie songs. And Jorge also performs covers here with his band Almaz, on the self-titled record released by funk and soul stalwarts Now-Again. This is surely not coincidental: interpreting other artists' work, in fact, may be what Jorge is best suited for. His voice, nuanced and capable, is a powerful instrument -- as adept at moving lightly and gently (like in the very Caetano Veloso-esque take of the rather obscure "Saudosa Bahia" by Noriel Vilela) as it is powering through Cain & Abel's "Girl You Move Me," which is full of heavy guitar lines and guttural wails, and is impossible not to listen to repeatedly, until you're fully dragged into it yourself. Credit the band, too, for providing Jorge with a platform on which to truly excel: comprised of drummer Pupillo), guitarist Lucio Maia (from Manguebeat band Nação Zumbi, and bassist (and famed film composer) Antonio Pinto, Almaz is the best group he's ever worked with. On Paula Lima's languid "Cirandar," for example, Jorge's cadence and vocal control give the song a bit more buoyancy, which balances well with Maia's Spaghetti Western-inspired guitar lines and Pupillo's steady beat. There's a spaciousness to the piece that moves it away from a mere cover toward true artistic expression, and a large part of this is probably thanks to Pinto, whose work as a film composer surely informs the band's interpretations and gives them an affecting expansiveness. This is best felt, perhaps, at the end, in the cover of Nelson Cavaquinho's "Juizo Final," or "Last Judgment," a majestic rendition that fuses soul, psychedelia, and samba, along with plenty of reverb and a healthy sense of the unknown. Unfortunately, not every song is quite as successful; Michael Jackson's "Rock with You" suffers a bit from the accent and an overly mellow staging (though that same approach works well in Roy Ayers' oft-covered "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," perhaps because the sultriness that Jorge explores there already existed), and the band's version of Tim Maia's "Cristina" isn't particularly inventive (Jorge clearly owes a lot to Maia, as well as to Jorge Ben, to whom he also pays tribute on "Errare Humanum Est"), but as a whole, as a statement of what Brazilian music was and is, Seu Jorge and Almaz is irrevocable proof that Jorge's ascent into the mainstream was no mistake. And it's something everyone should hear.

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