One of Brazil's greatest contemporary composers and performers, Caetano Veloso shines once again on Prenda Minha (Blue Thumb), a powerful concert album which highlights his continuing fascination with Afro-Brazilian percussion, pop songwriting, sweet ballads, and the cool, modal jazz styles of Gil Evans and Miles Davis. Recorded live in Rio de Janeiro, Prenda Minha sums up a recording career that has spanned five decades and reveals Veloso's passionate exploration and synthesis of different musical styles.
On Prenda Minha, Veloso turns to the cool jazz music that had inspired the bossa nova sounds of his youth. With a live band led by jazz cellist/arranger Jacques Morelenbaum, Prenda Minha features Veloso on vocals and guitar along with a compact brass trio that includes Rowney Scott, saxophone; Roberto Silva, trombone; and Joatan Nascimento, trumpet and flugelhorn. The trio's sleek, sometimes eerie, cosmopolitan jazz phrasings interweave with the irrepressible, explosively physical power of an equally compact, equally expert, Afro-Brazilian percussion team. Combining his dreamily romantic poetry and pop compositions with the thunderous street sounds of his native Bahia and the urbane sophistication of high-concept jazz, Veloso once again makes the impossible seem effortless.
The album ranges from graceful, acoustic love songs to Chet Baker-style jazz ballads to aggressive, yet balanced, adult-oriented pop. Veloso starts the concert by gently poking fun at jazz legends Davis and Evans, who in the early 1960s placed a copyright on their adaptation of the Brazilian folk tune "Prenda Minha." He then cheerfully showers the audience with shimmering, rippling percussion work, so precise and elegant that it takes on the lead melody of each song. The drums buoy up a dreamy, imaginative rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova standard "Meditacao," continue through to a stunning version of Veloso's late '70s hit "Terra," and crest in the calypso-tinged, upbeat rock number "Eclipse Oculto."
The brass and backbeats soon drop out, and Veloso's acoustic guitar takes center stage for intimate solo explorations of some of his most beautiful ballads, along with those of fellow Brazilian composers Gilberto Gil ("Bem Devagar," "Drao") and Chico Buarque ("Carolina"). The band gently rejoins him for a series of tunes, highlighted by Veloso's "Esse Cara," and a lush version of "Mel," a hit for his sister, torch singer Maria Bethania. The tempo builds to the show's climax, a set of thrillingly percussion-heavy sambas, whose smoothness belies their rhythmic power. Prenda Minha ends with a delirious burst which expresses perfectly the rapturous playful songcraft which is Veloso's life work.
In the United States, GRAMMY winner Caetano Veloso is best known as a founder of Brazilian tropicalia a late-'60s movement which mixed rock and roll, pop kitsch, and North American youth culture into the already potent musical stew of Brazilian pop. It was Veloso, along with his friends Gil, Gal Costa, and Tom Z , who created the wildly creative, frequently chaotic new style. Forged in part as a reaction to the stifling atmosphere of Brazil under the military dictatorship that seized power in 1964, tropicalia refashioned Brazilian culture. Tropicalia took in the cool sound of the bossa nova as well as traditional samba music and long-neglected African influences, and brilliantly combined them with the vibrant, expansive innovations of the Beatles and other rock pioneers.
Reactions to tropicalia were dramatically mixed, ranging from unstoppable enthusiasm on the part of young rock fans to disbelief and shock from the bossa nova old guard. In 1968, Veloso confronted his critics while performing at one of the national songwriting festivals that had first made him a star. Backed by the teenage psychedelic rock band, Os Mutantes, Veloso (like Bob Dylan at Newport) was nearly booed off the stage by an audience that resented the intrusion of electrified instruments into the subtle, graceful world of Brazilian songwriting.
The popularity of the tropicalia counterculture also led to cruel repression by the government. The military leadership viewed the mischievously ingenious, boldly unorthodox music as a challenge to its authority, and it imprisoned both Veloso and Gil for several months in 1969. Upon their release, both artists went into European exile, while their albums and songs were censored at home. Returning to Brazil in 1972, the artists were hailed as heroes, and Veloso's reputation as one of Brazil's greatest songwriters was solidified.
Of all the artists to come out of the tropicalia movement, Veloso is perhaps the most stylistically consistent. His artistic brilliance lies in his ability to appropriate popular sounds, such as mainstream rock and jazz fusion instrumentation, without letting contemporary technique overwhelm his own personal style. Veloso's albums embrace successive waves of pop music, from bossa nova to blues, acid rock and folk balladry, and, more recently, hip-hop and electronic music. Veloso skillfully uses each style to frame his calm, conversational vocals (which in turn owe a huge debt to the cool, suave delivery of his first idol, bossa nova legend, Jo o Gilberto). Additionally, Veloso's lyrics are complex and allusive; along with Ary Barroso and Chico Buarque, Veloso is considered one of the great songwriter-poets of the Portuguese language.
Veloso's post-exile records reflect the growing sophistication and maturation of his eclectic musical vocabulary. Two mainly-acoustic albums, Qualquer Coisa (1975) and Joia (1975), reaffirmed his love of bossa nova, as did the 1981 collaboration with Gilberto, Brasil. On Bicho (1977), he explored the West African roots of Bahian popular song, while on Muito (1978), he gracefully melded jazz fusion into his unique acoustic balladry. Beginning with Cinema Trancendental (1979), Veloso entered the world of mainstream pop, a journey that found its high points with albums such as Estrangeiro (1989) and the more recent Livro (1998). Throughout, Veloso has also helped discover and develop many of the most talented new artists, including fellow songwriter Vinicius Cantuaria and Afro-Brazilian percussionist Carlinhos Brown, both of whom worked in his bands.
Caetano Veloso is a master in many regards. Prenda Minha is a living document of his talents a chance to experience his amazing energies in the decades to come.
Prenda Minha will be released on CD [314 538 583-2] and DVD [440 061 856-2]
on July 25, 2000.
For more information, contact: Chris Wheat (212) 331-2053 [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Blue Thumb Records web site: www.bluethumb.com