Three Reissues From Lugar Alto

Reissuing precious music from the depths of Brazilian memory

The sounds insinuate themselves, unfolding slowly. It starts with washes of synthesizer that could come from any 1980s New Romantic pop album. Suddenly it becomes a forest, with various bird and insect calls. bubbling gently as acoustic guitar begins to outline a song structure. A dreamy female voice floats wordlessly above the drum machine, guitar, and electronic sounds. Then, just past 3.5 minutes, it becomes a choro, a traditional Brazilian folk style. But the drum machine gently persists and the female vocal becomes more animated.

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This is the first track of Leonardo V. Boccia's long lost album Homenagem, one of three very different albums of Brazilian music reissued by Sao Paulo label Lugar Alto, whose motto is "Reissuing precious music from the depths of Brazilian memory." Outside the well known Brazilian musical genres, there are many more obscure and regional styles that, when combined in fresh ways, produced music that was more experimental than average, and which was sometimes ignored or misunderstood, and these are the kind of releases that Lugar Alto promises its listeners. 

Boccia is an Italian who found himself attracted to Brazilian music as well as to the climate, lifestyle, and natural beauty of Salvador, Bahia. Moving there in 1978, it has become his permanent home. He teaches there at the Federal University of Bahia and continues to inspire students with the possibilities of combining local sounds and cultures with worldwide music trends. 

None of this would matter if Homenagem wasn't interesting or worth listening to, but it is. Boccia's acoustic guitar and electric bass playing are clean and relaxed whether he's playing solo or providing rhythmic backing, as on "Carinho Brasileiro," a track on which he also sings, along with Gilberto Gil backing vocalist Sueli Sodre. His bass playing on the track is a perfect rhythmic foil to the vocals that demonstrate careful listening to bass work on contemporary jazz fusion and pop music. 

The Roland electric drums and Korg synth Boccia used are far from sophisticated, but they sketch out what is needed to provide the listener with a solid representation of Boccia's aesthetic vision. "In the Salvador of the 1980s," says Boccio, "we didn’t have big productions, nor sponsor money. We made do with very little, mostly because we wanted to get together and participate.”  Homenagem is a profound reminder of the beauty that can arise from a sincere DIY approach to recording.

Lugar Alto's next reissue is one that modern jazz enthusiasts may well enjoy, especially if your tastes run to free jazz blowing. Poema da Gota Serena was released by Zé Eduardo Nazário in 1982, and it features Nazario playing a wide array of percussion, bells, and other noisemakers. On the album's first side he duets with Cacau (de Queiroz) who plays tenor saxophone through the first half. His playing is muscular and bold, sometimes sounding like Sonny Rollins, at others taking a more AACM vibe. The second half of Side One is more serene, with Nazario playing glockenspiel and other small percussion items while Cacau switches to a low and mellow flute. 

On Side Two the collaborator is Lelo Nazario (Ze's brother), who plays some keyboards, including synth, to very different effect. The dissonant clusters that accompany the side's beginning are reminiscent of Miles Davis' disruptive organ work circa Get Up With It. Ze underlines the bubbling keyboards and xylophone with equally unsettled percussion runs. A little before the four-minute mark things get a bit more prog rock-like, with more drumming and a full-on organ sound. That gives way to the second half, on which tribal Brazilian rhythm cycles around Ze'sKannakol-style vocals. Here the synths are used to create an ambient background for the more kinetic actions in the foreground. It's hard to believe that they sustain both their energy and the listener's interest for a full ten minutes of this, but when it's over, you'll feel like you could have listened to it for another ten. under

Poema da Gota Serena probably has a smaller potential audience than Homenagem, but for folks who like drum/percussion, Brazilian and other South American music, and/or free jazz or simply open-minded jazzy experimentation, this album will be well worth your time. I could see some jam band/Dead fans enjoying it as well.

If neither of these albums grabs your fancy, Lugar Alto still might have something for you. Their third reissue is Mumia (Mummy), an album that was actually only previously released via a DIY cassette that was recently unearthed by a former DJ who now owns Sao Paulo's Caracol Bar. 

Mumia consists of underground Sao Paolo figure Kodiak Bechine and Celso Alves. Bechine was best known as the mastermind behind the band Agentss, a post-punk group that issued only two singles during their brief lifetime.

The album that Lugar Alto has released is the result of improvised sessions recorded at Alves'  house in the country interior of Sao Paulo. The duo utilizes a minimal group of electronics that includes a Rhythm Composer, Casio Synthesizer, and Boss Delay Pedal, recorded with a Tascam Portastudio. 

The result is very eclectic and experimental, but many of the sounds heard here will be familiar to British and American post-punk fans. One can readily hear elements reminiscent of Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu, Throbbing Gristle, PiL, and Brian Eno/David Byrne collaborations. The opening track, 'Ave de Deserto,' unfolds slowly, its beat overlaid with droning backgrounds from which various vocal and instrumental sounds leap suddenly from the mix. It's a strange, sometimes intimidating soundscape, but one which I found myself readily enjoying and engaging with. 

The third track, whose translated title is "Doctor Albert Hofmann meets in Barcelona the Siamese brothers (2 heads and 1 brain) "Pico & Peco" with his sombreros admiring La Raponesita de Osaka" hints at the psychedelic background swirling around Mumia as well. In a rare recent interview Kodiak Bechine had this to say about the sounds he and Alves created in 1988:  "Besides transcendental rhythms, MUMIA’s music is very focused on choosing carefully distinct timbres and exploiting the vocals, not necessarily the lyrics but the vocal effects as an essential and conducting part for the composition. These features permeate most of the tracks. And of course, the production and mixing play a paramount role as well. The whole process has to do much more with a state of being than to do with frivolous technicalities.”

All of these recordings are still available for download from Bandcamp, but vinyl records have sold out and are now available from Honest Jon Records in London.

Bonus Tracks

Carlos Santana contributes his guitar playing to eight tracks on wife Cindy Blackman's upcoming album Give the Drummer Some, due on September 18th. Blackman has been known as a top session drummer since the '90s, playing with Wallace Roney, Kenny Garrett, Joe Henderson, Lenny Kravitz, Mike Stern, Jack Bruce, and Santana as well as leading her own groups both live and in the studio. Carlos is also interested in doing a tribute to guitarist Sonny Sharrock and is working with members of Sharrock's band to put the project together. 

I came across this quote about Blondie from a Village Voice piece on CBGB bands circa 1975: "Someone ought to tell the gui­tarist that the way to sing harmony is to sing into the microphone." In more recent Blondie news, I had no idea about this:

You can plan your budget or your holiday list with this list of the best vinyl reissues, represses, and limited editions being released in 2020. Though far from comprehensive, there's something here for everyone. 

"This is an exciting period and whoever doesn’t know that, doesn’t know much. You got a ticket to ride or you don’t." That's Roscoe Mitchell on his life and work during the pandemic days as the 80-year-old original member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and pillar of the AACM becomes a member of the Class of 2020 NEA Jazz Masters. Read the interview here.

Over at The Root, Very Smart Brothas' Panama Jackson asks If An Album Isn't Streaming Online, Does It Really Exist? I -previously wrote about this topic-specific albums not being available on streaming platforms-but Jackson has a slightly different angle, wondering what happens to an album's influence on culture if younger listeners don't know that it exists?

I leave you this week with a piece of Czechoslovakian synth-pop from 1986. "Chtela bych byt robotem (I Want to be a Robot)" by Eva Hurychova.

Wishing you a terrific week. Take some time to smell the flowers and listen to the sounds. See you next week. 

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