Beyond the 130 - Brazil part II - Jorge Ben

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Beyond the 130 - Brazil part II - Jorge Ben

Postby echolalia » 31 Jan 2015, 18:43

Jorge Ben.

First some boring small print: The albums I’m covering here are addressed in order of release but don’t form an uninterrupted sequence: I’ve left out 10 Anos Depois from 1973, which is medleys of earlier recordings, and Gil e Jorge from 1975, with Gilberto Gil. They range from 1969 to 1976 and trace the development of a sound that’s variously described as samba rock or samba soul. Whatever it’s called, it’s very good indeed. I’ve picked one track from each of the albums covered. Jorge Ben is an ongoing passion/discovery for me. His 60s and 70s albums are hard to come by on vinyl or CD, but they’re all available on youtube these days. This music still feels exciting and new for me: hopefully it will feel the same for you.

My first pick is from Jorge Ben (1969). But first, a look at the voodoo-shrine cover:


Which is a pretty accurate picture of Jorge Ben’s world and music, with its references to football, emancipation, esoteric religion, and lots of other stuff too. Above the topless woman with the blue hair is a man playing the cuíca, a strange instrument which looks like a drum but doesn’t work by percussion. It makes that distinctive – annoying to many – birdcall-like sound you can hear in this selection, and which is responsible for those see-saw melodies you so often hear in Brazilian music. I’ll lovingly baste my axolotl in extra-virgin olive oil and fry it up with morel, samphire and quail’s eggs if the vocal melody for Tom Jobim’s Águas de Março, to give one example, doesn’t come straight from the cuíca.

Next track is from 1970’s Força Bruta. Ben's rhythm section (Trio Mocotó, on the first three albums here) at their very best:

My pick from Negro é Lindo (1971) is an uncharacteristically introspective and sentimental track with lush strings flinging themselves about. Jorge Ben has never been shy about using backing vocalists, but in this track they take a while to arrive. When they do, however… ouch. Why is it Forbidden to Walk on the Grass?

My choice from Ben’s 1972 album, the imaginatively-titled Ben, is the song that’s famous for being ripped off by Rod Stewart in Do Ya Think I’m Sexy. In my opinion it’s one of the coolest pieces of music in the history of cool pieces of music. Apparently it was an amicable settlement, with Stewart making a donation to charity. The sum was undisclosed, but they were dancing on the streets of Unicef when the news was announced!

A Tábua de Esmeralda from 1974 is widely regarded as Ben’s best album. I’m not arguing. The sound is warm and enveloping, with big drums and ornate orchestrations on top of what we are now recognizing as Ben’s signature guitar style. This album and the two that follow form Ben’s “alchemy” trilogy. This next track has some interesting Joe Meekish sonic effects and ends with a countdown, a blast-off and a flurry of sparks. Which is what we’re looking for when we’re messing around with our alchemistry sets after all:

Jorge Ben’s songs are mostly about women, hermeticism, and football, roughly in that order, and sometimes all three at once. But this one, from the 1975 album Solta o Pavão, is about Old People, Flowers, Little Children and Puppies:

On África Brasil, Jorge Ben went electric. Electric bass already features strongly on Solta o Pavão, which also has some great synth one on track, but now we have electric guitar. Judas! Everyone on BCB knows the wonderful Ponta de Lança Africano from this album. My choice is a track that was earlier recorded on A Tábua de Esmeralda. Both versions are great, but just now, I love the electric version more.

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T. Willy Rye
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Re: Beyond the 130 - Brazil part II - Jorge Ben

Postby T. Willy Rye » 31 Jan 2015, 19:25

Sorry Echolalia, didn't know you were picking up Jorge Ben. How great an album is Forca Bruta?

Here's another favorite from A Tábua de Esmeralda

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Brazil part II - Jorge Ben

Postby Brother Spoon » 31 Jan 2015, 20:17

Wonderful stuff, Echolalia!
Seeing as he gave me my first taste of Brazilian music and it hooked me, of course I also looked out for his records. But not to the extent you have! From Negro é lindo onwards I'm on familiar grounds, but the first two albums you mention, I've not heard. Sounds very good. With Ben it's all in the subtle details that are different from one record to the next. The particular production or the way the percussion sounds, or the strings. But he does so much with these basic ingredients. Whatever he does, he's got that authority. He just lays it down, you know.
A Tábua de Esmeralda is, at a push, my favorite also.

I hope you didn't pass over Gil e Jorge because you don't like it. That's such an amazing, spontaneous record.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Brazil part II - Jorge Ben

Postby The Modernist » 31 Jan 2015, 20:35

Great original post.
I only have a patchy knowledge of his albums ( I probably know the Negro E Linda album best) so this is very useful. He is certainly one of the key Brazilian artists, such a relaxed groove to what he does.

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Re: Beyond the 130 - Brazil part II - Jorge Ben

Postby Rayge » 15 Jan 2018, 18:53

In timeless moments we live forever

You can't play a tune on an absolute

Negative Capability...when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”