Brazil's 'new wave'

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By Bill DeMain  

In the summer of 1958, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote "Chega De Saudade." The quietly bewitching tune heralded the coming of bossa nova (which means "new wave" in Portuguese). Nearly fifty years later, the genre that Jobim once described as being "cool and contained" still sounds contemporary, thanks to a bumper crop of young Brazilian artists who are bringing their own spin to the music. At the forefront of the newest new wave is Bossacucanova.

The name translates as "bossa with a new mind." And DJ Dalua, Alexandre Moreira and Marcio Menescal, a trio of musician-programmers, are certainly bursting with fresh ideas. With one bare foot in the sand of Ipanema and the other on the dancefloor of some hip Rio nightclub, they blend the introverted melancholy of bossa with the more extroverted sizzle of electronica.

Fashioned with spirited humor, there's a wonderful depth of sound here -- clattering breakbeat loops and Moogy bleeps rubbing up against mournful cellos and gut string guitars, wild congas and percussive organ dancing around snatches of old radio interviews. Insects buzzing. Bicycle horns. It's like Spike Jones and Moby on vacation in South America.

Unlike many programmers, Bossacucanova have songwriting chops. Their originals sit comfortably next to classics by Jobim ("Aguas de Marco"), Caetano Veloso ("Vai Levando") and Dori Caymmi ("Samba da Minha Terra"). What the trio does lack is a lead singer, a dilemma they solve by featuring a different guest vocalist on each track. Again, the contemporary blends seamlessly with the classic -- Zuco 103, Marcos Valle, Simoninha, Roberto Menescal.

If you're looking for song snippets to sample online, I suggest the perky "Previsao," which bubbles along on handclaps, breathy tenor sax and Adriana Calcanhoto's dreamy vocal, and "Just a Samba," led by the gifted Celso Fonseca (his CD, Natural, is a must for bossa fans, and a great makeout record too).

In an interview, Bossacucanova's Alexandre Moreira said of the genre they're updating, "For me, this kind of music is like American jazz. It is forever. You will still hear it in fifty or two-thousand years." Here's to that.

Musician and journalist Bill DeMain writes frequently about music. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Entertainment Weekly, MOJO, and Musician.