South American sizzle

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By Bill DeMain  

The Brazilians know how to do sexy. Samba, Bossa nova, gut string guitars, Giselle Bundchen, Bebel Gilberto. All of these imports are sun-kissed and languid, and seem to carry the implicit promise of the most sensual pleasures known to man. The Brazilian take on sexy is also more multi-faceted than our own Americanized version. It makes room for subtle shadings of melancholia and sly humor, the same way that bossa nova music accommodates offbeat rhythms and those caressing chords like major ninths and minor seventh flat fives.

With that in mind, meet a 21st century girl from Ipanema (Sao Paolo, actually).

Cibelle (pronounced see-BELL-ee) Cavalli is a 28-year old Brazilian of mixed Italian-Portuguese heritage. A classically trained musician and former actress, she started her singing career in clubs and bars, then became the clarion voice of Sao Paolo Confessions, a groundbreaking record by the late Suba. The Serbian-born producer pioneered the Brazilian electronica movement, fusing traditional sounds with technical prowess, and Cibelle was his muse. Along with artists such as Celso Fonseca, Bossacucanova and Fernanda Porto, she now carries the torch that Suba lit.

Opening track "Diexa" sets the tone immediately. A steady, slow burner, with Moog lines squiqqling upwards like yellow-green vapors and a percussive groove that resets the beat of your heart, this song has one thing on its mind. And that one thing has nothing to do with the mind.

Portuguese is a magical language, all soft frictives and buzzing vowels, and Cibelle makes the most of it. Even if you don't understand the words, they speak directly to your heart (and other various south of the border body parts). Following the lead of "Diexa," songs such as "Luisas," "So sei Viver no Samba" and "Pequenos Olhos" are all variations on a slow seduction. Maybe one day if I learn Portuguese, I'll find out that I've been bewitched by songs about vacuuming and auto repair, but I doubt it.

Cibelle also sings beautifully in English. "Hate" sets surf guitars and Bollywood splashes against a frisky Bo Diddley beat, while she dithers over how one person can inspire such polar emotions ("I love you so much when I hate you so bad"). "Waiting" is the kind of ultra-cool jazz waltz that Peggy Lee once sashayed through, and "I'll Be" is a nod to Sade, all luscious bass lines and echoed melodic phrases.

Produced by Apollo 9 (one of Suba's able acolytes) and mixed by Christopher Harrison and Pete Norris of Morcheeba, the album strikes the perfect balance between classic and modern. Call it Bossa Nova Nova (the new new wave). Along for the ride is a colorful supporting cast, including rapper Xis, Cuban pianist Pepe Ciseneros, percussionist Joao Parahyba, French electronics whiz David Walters and bossa vet Johnny Alf (who duets on the sole cover, Jobim's "Inutil Paisagem").

As Cibelle says, "One thing I learned whilst being with Suba is that making music should be fun, not a factory. I meet musicians I click with, and try to make beautiful music with them."

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