Thursday, March 27, 2008

Discovered: Holy Grail of Brazilian Funk!

More than a year ago a little bird told me that someone had turned up some lost tapes of Tim Maia during his "Racional" phase. Now, if you don't read Portuguese it's difficult to find any information about Tim's "Racional" phase aside from how its really lauded as his best work, his most funky, etc. As a Tim Maia fanatic, I can agree with all of that, so the recent confirmation of some unreleased "Racional" tapes is indeed a revelation. To give you an idea of the context of this discovery, I've pasted the text from an article I wrote for Fader magazine a few years back. The photos here are courtesy of Paulinho Guitarra, guitarist for Tim Maia for most of his classic albums. Paulinho can be seen in the band pictures - he's the skinny white dude next to Tim when they're holding up the book and the one playing guitar in the band photo.

ReHeaters: Tim Maia Racional, vol. 1 (originally published in The Fader magazine, Issue ?)

The Beatles got spiritual in India, Bob Dylan was born again, Cat Stevens traded in his guitar for a Qu’ran, but none of these compare to the spiritual detour that Tim Maia, the godfather of Brazilian soul music, took in the mid-1970s.

Before sliding into a 12-minute, heavy-funk vamp extolling the virtues of “rational culture,” Tim Maia drops some the following knowledge acapella style, still the best explanation this author has found describing the pseudo-religious, existential doo-doo that Tim stepped in:

“You don’t know what I know, because I know where we came from. We came from a super-world, a world of rational energy. And we live in an anti-world, a world of animal’s energy. Read the book, the only book, the book of God: Universe in Disenchantment and you’re gonna know the truth.”

Tim Maia never did anything halfway, so when he decided to join the Brazilian sect of Rational Culture, he dove in headfirst and took his music with him. Already armed with four chart-topping albums, Tim’s next two albums were the strangest and most personal of his career.

Serginho Trombone, a band member at the time, recalls that, “It was a really crazy phase. Tim was constantly staring to the sky looking for flying saucers. The worst of all was that he convinced the entire band to join the cult. We painted all of our instruments white, even the drum set.”

Tim also gave up his personal possessions, cut his Afro, and gave up drugs and booze—a bold move considering he was a world-class druggie. Maybe it was the absence of alcohol and cocaine surging through his veins or the lack of smoke in his throat, but Tim’s racional recordings are easily the best of his career.

Originally released in 1975, Tim Maia Racional vol. 1 kicks off with the sublime slow funk burner “Imunização Racional (Que Beleza)” (Rational Immunization (What Beauty)). “Bom Senso” heats up the proceedings with a heavy dose of Isely funk, before “Contato Com O Mundo Racional” slows it down to an Al Green pace, as Tim pleads in a falsetto for just one chance to make contact with the “rational world.” The album ends with Tim attempting to spread the gospel of racional to the English-speaking world through the epic “Rational Culture,” which grooves endlessly on a wave of clavinet and wah-wah guitars.

Following a blowout with the cult’s founder, he never spoke of racional again, forbade the reissue of these songs and even discouraged other artists from covering them. Thankfully, the Maia Estate relented. Widely bootlegged in Brazil, Tim Maia Racional vol. 1 (yes, there’s another album and even rumors of an unreleased third), finally received an official reissue earlier this year thanks to the Brazilian label, Trama. Trama plans to release volume two shortly and Luaka Bop is wrapping up a Tim Maia compilation that will feature many of the songs from Racional 1 & 2, along with other rarities.

Tim Maia - You Gotta Be Rational
So, the story goes that a producer by the name of Dudu Marote was working on the first Afroreggae album in 2000 with the studio engenenier of Somil studios, William Junior. William mentioned to Dudu that he worked with Tim Maia on some of his final albums, which promoted Dudu to ask William if he had ever listened to Tim's "Racional" albums. William hadn't and when Dudu brought in the albums to play for him, William said that he had something like these albums at home on the ORIGINAL TAPES!

It turns out that William's dad was the owner of the same studio back in the 1970s when Tim Maia recorded his "Racional" albums and when he abruptly left the cult, he never returned to the studio to pick up the tapes, so William's dad just took them home and sat on them until only recently. Dudu then offered the tapes to some record labels, but no one took him up on the offer. William also provided copies of the tapes to multi-instrumentalist and producer, Kassin, who began working on releasing the unreleased album. Kassin claims that there are three additional songs beyond the five available for download now.

Once the download was posted the proverbial "dudu" hit the fan and the Tim Maia family started trying to get involved. Tim's only legitimate son, Carmelo, who has commented on this very blog, claims that famed 1980s producer of his father's and many others' hits, Lincoln Olivetti, will be assembling the unreleased album, but no more information has leaked. The songs that have been leaked are the following:

1. Escrituração Racional: a slow-jam and weaker of the songs, in my opinion

2. Escrituração Racional, take 2: the second take features some trippy echo effects on the vocals.

3. You Gotta Be Rational: The song I've posted here. This one is much like some of Tim's slower funk joints and speaking of "joints" his lyrics to this one claim that "I don't need no dope, I am rational. And when you read the book Universe in Disenchantment", you won't need no dope, you'll be rational."

4. Universo Em Desencanto Disco: This is a great little stepping soul-funk tune with a great Philly vibe and bounce to it. Others have commented that this song clearly indicates that these sessions were recorded later than the earlier released "Racional" albums. I can definitely hear that mid-70s disco influence on this tune.

5. Brasil Racional: On this one Tim literally reads from the cult's bible, Universe In Disenchantment over a killer funk groove.

Listening to these songs you can tell that there are some elements missing like horn or string embellishments, back-up vocals, or even more verses. It's hard to say what the maestro had in mind, but this fan is happy with these nuggets even as they are. I say, release the beast!

In respect for those planning on releasing the whole thing, I've only posted one song, but if you want to hear them all the download site is not too hard to find.

Monday, March 24, 2008

When the Party's Over . . .

I've never DJed a bar or club outside of New York City, so I don't know if the same thing happens to an average party come 3:00am when the bar is still open, but the party momentum has waned, leaving much of the crowd too drunk or tired to dance. I can imagine that if last call is at 1:30am, that's when the party would normally be at its livliest as it was with the second installment of "The Rio Deal" that went down last Saturday night, with special guest selectors DJ Rios and Deepak Chopra. The bar is new and this party is new so I'm still trying to figure out who the crowd is and what moves them, but just as the early hours of a DJ gig are for the DJ to play what she/he likes, the last handful of songs are for the DJ to slowly fade into the night and get some much needed zzzzzzzzzzs.

The tracks I've selected here are some of my favorite chill out songs to play in the waning hours of a party. They're not devoid of energy or funkiness, but they all acknowledge the inevitable ending of a good night. Funnily, they're all Southern Soul and Funk numbers originating from Florida and New Orleans.

Little Beaver - Party Down, part 1
This track is one of my favorites with its early use of a drum machine and his slinky and sexy guitar lines. O-Dub over at Soul Sides uploaded some scans from a 1970s black culture magazine that has a feature about Little Beaver among others (Betty Davis & Donna Summer). You can download it here. The album that this track is pulled from is wonderfully mellow and a great listen even if most of the songs sound like reinterpretations of "Party Down."

Rocky Mizell & Sugarock - Take It Easy Babe
I can't even remember where I got this single. I can't claim to have the album pictured to the left - hell, I didn't even know there was an album until I was scouring the interwebs for a ANY picture having to do with Rocky Mizell. I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that this Brother Mizell is NOT of the same stock as the more famous Fonce, Larry and the lesser-known third Mizell, Rodney. This Mizell who performed on this song and the super-rare album with his band "Sugarock," was a leser-known figure in the Miami funk camp centered around T.K. records. He was also a member of the band "Miami" which also recorded for T.K. If anyone knows anything more about Mr. Rocky Mizell, lemme know . . . I simply love this track. It speaks to the moment in the party when everyone is feeling good and just sort of sitting back and enjoying the scene. Easy like VERY early Sunday morning . . .

Allen Toussaint - When the Party's Over
I believe this is my first post on Allen Toussaint, which is strange seeing as I'm a huge fan of this man who shares my first name and last initial. This track is pulled from his best known album, "Southern Nights." The song is strangely not the last song on the album; that coveted spot was given to any even more appropriate closer, "Cruel Way To Go Down." This one kinda speaks for itself. Pack up your records, make sure you don't forget your needles and head home 'til next party . . .

Thursday, March 20, 2008

If You Like Pina Coladas . . .

March is the most difficult month of the year in New York City. Truth be told it hasn't been a particularly cold or stormy winter, but that doesn't make today's wind-chill of below zero any more appealing. In fact I would prefer some snow over this extended winter outro vamp that never seems to end. That's one reason that I am absolutely LOVING this new compilation recently released by the resurrected STRUT Records.

"Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986" is a loving tribute to the studio and house-band that was contributed to some of the Talking Heads' most innovative records (Tom Tom Club, too) not to mention some late disco classics performed by Grace Jones, Gwen Guthrie and remixed by the likes of Larry Levan and Francois K. The track-list includes some obvious, but classic, songs and some lesser known gems. Down below I picked my favorite two tracks for your listening pleasure. Check out the resurrected Compass Point Studio website for some history, to book some studio time, or to buy a commemorative mouse-pad (pictured: above right).

This is an actual picture of sunset at Compass Point Studios . . . Beats the hell out of my view of the Con Ed power plant from my office window on a grey and windy day in Astoria, NY.

Guy Cuevas - Obsession (Nassau Mix)
This song is a revelation. I need to read the liner notes from this comp - evidently written by the guy who wrote the Lee Perry biography - to see what the 411 is on this track. Evidently, Guy Cuevas, is a French DJ and this is the "Nassau Mix" for his song "Obsession." I don't know if that means it was only mixed in Nassau, or recorded there as well. It has that great mix of Disco, early Hip-Hop style delivery and all in Spanish from a French DJ with dubby effects courtesy of Sly & Robbie.

Bits & Pieces - Don't Stop the Music
Speaking of Sly & Robbie, this is their dubbed-out cover of Yarborough & Peoples' "Don't Stop the Music," which sounds like a major smoke-out in the studio with guest cameos from Newcleus, Bootsy Collins and King Tubby. This one's for you, Nicole.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Shoemaker from Bahia, Brazil

What makes a song worthy of covering, or in other words, why are some songs covered ad infinitum while other great songs have just one version? I was thinking about this the other day when my favorite DJ, DJ Shuffles of the iPod fame, played yet another version of "Na Baixa do Sapateiro." At first I thought, 'not another version of this song!' but as I listened I realized what a great version this new one was and how it really made me appreciate the composition even more. So a simple search in my iTunes uncovered several more versions of the song. Then a trip over to Loronix revealed several more that I didn't already have. I downloaded the essential ones and now I think I'm ready to divulge no less than seven versions of the song. Actually, there is one more version I'd like to share, but I can't seem to find the record it's on, so we'll have to wait.

Rather than repeat the excellent history of the song written by Daniella Thompson, you can check it out here. Daniella has also compiled an exhaustive list of versions of the song, as either "Na Baixa do Sapateiro" or "Baia"/"Bahia".

And for an insight into the life and times of composer, Ary Barroso, please read on from Daniella's site. Barroso was a giant of Brazilian song up there with Dorival Caymmi and Antonio Carlos Jobim in the Brazilian pantheon of composers.

Now for the versions of this song, starting off with what I believe to be the first recorded version from none other than Carmen Miranda:

Carmen Miranda - Na Baixa do Sapateiro

Now we're gonna mix it up with a funky version by Wando from 1975.

Wando - Na Baixa do Sapateiro

Here we have a soul-jazz version from by Jorge Autuori Trio from 1969:

Jorge Autuori Trio - Na Baixa do Sapateiro

And one of my alltime favorite versions from the Pope of Bossa Nova, Joao Gilberto, from 1973:

Joao Gilberto - Na Baixa do Sapateiro

Evinha, a pop-soul singer, takes a stab at the song from her 1974 album:

Evinha - Na Baixa do Sapateiro

Now the song gets a samba-space-funk treatment from Meireles' 1974 album:

Meireles e Sua Orquestra - Na Baixa do Sapateiro

And here is another early version from 1953 with some great reverb/echo on the beat:

Trio Surdina & Leo Peracchi - Na Baixa do Sapateiro

And finally, we have Banda Black Rio's brazilian-jazz-funk take on the classic:

Banda Black Rio - Na Baixa do Sapateiro

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Another Disco Monster: Sisters Love

In preparation for a recent trip to the Bay Area I bumped "The Mack" to the top of my Netflix cue, seeing as it's an iconic look at early seventies Oakland. I didn't get around to watching it until after I got back, but I must say for a Blaxploitation flick it is one of the best I've seen, not to say that I'm an expert. The acting is extremely melodramatic but the lead parts by Max Julien and Richard Pryor are very memorable. There are lots of elements from this movie that have been cherry-picked by the Hip Hop scene (think Too Short, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and most of the West Coast scene) and even what most of popular culture imagines when they think of pimps, pimp style, mink coats and purple fedoras . . . you know the deal. This movie was probably the first to put that stuff on screen. Check out the video over at Soul Spectrum Videos for an iconic scene that features a musical performance from the Dr. Frankenstein that gave birth to this post's "Disco Monster." Also, if you're a fan of Dave Chappelle and remember his skit "Player Hater's Ball" you will no doubt catch some references.

As the story goes, The Sisters Love were given a cameo slot in the film and it was their manager or producer that suggested to the director to use Willie Hutch for the soundtrack and what a soundtrack it is! It features some great tunes, including the classic "Brother's Gonna Work It Out." But for me, the song that The Sisters Love perform in the movie is a revelation. Having only really heard their classic remake of Curtis Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love," and another song ((I Could Never Make) A Better Man Than You) that they lip-synch on a bootleg Soul Train tape, I was unaware of any other songs of theirs.

The Sisters Love - Now Is the Time
This song is a funk monster with the Sisters giving a rousing, gut-bucket performance over a slamming groove that is much more sinister and in-your-face than most other female vocal groups of the time. The Supremes or Honey Cone they were not. With the quality of their limited output (8 singles for a total of 16 songs) it's a wonder they never got a full length record deal. I mean, they opened for The Jackson 5 for crying out loud! That is a tour slot that you have to work for. Then you see the Soul Train videos (check 'em out over at SS Videos) and you start to get it. They may have been damn good performers with top-shelf songs but they were not the most attractive girl group around. Even before MTV, they were not getting their dues for their music. Hell, there might have been many other factors at play, but from my comfy office chair, it seems to me that the lead-singer's gap toothed vocal stylings might have been the nail in their commercially unsuccessful coffin.

The Sisters Love - Give Me Your Love (Danny Krivit re-edit)
From a "Funk Monster" to the real "Disco Monster." This is legendary New York Disco DJ, Danny Krivit's re-edit of The Sisters Love's biggest hit. Krivit, who regulaly DJs in NYC (check out his 718 Sessions if you're in NYC or passing through for one of the best sound systems you've ever heard and a crowd that has NO SHAME in shaking their collective groove-thangs) seemlessly extends the bass-heavy groove of this song and turns a 45-only masterpiece into an eight minute epic classic!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chico Mann Live in Brooklyn (and NJ tomorrow night!)

To pick up where I left off, a couple weeks ago I had a Saturday full of live music . . . so after leaving The Sweet Divines' show I headed up to Williamsburg where Chico Mann was having a late show at the Lucky Cat. Like The Divines, Chico Mann is a local group, based out of Jersey City, NJ and their live show features Antibalas keyboard player, Victor Axelrod. Marcos "Marquitos" Garcia, the man behind Chico Mann is also the guitar player for Antibalas.

The show was a bit of a let-down, but I don't fault the band. The sound system at Lucky Cat was a bit messed up and they couldn't figure out how to remove the reverb from the backing track they were using for the drum track. You could feel the band's frustration with the situation and that they couldn't kick it like they wanted to due to technical difficulties. I look forward to seeing them sometime soon and they do have a number of shows coming up, in fact at Maxwell's in Hoboken tomorrow night!My man, DJ Rios (Wax Poetics) to spin the opening DJ set.

Here we have one of many solid tracks off of Chico Mann's debut album, Manifest Tone, Vol. 1

Chico Mann - Soul Freedom

The Sweet Divines

The Sweet Divines with band-leader and song-writer J.B. Flatt

A few weeks ago I experienced a jam-packed Saturday night of live music that started off with the second ever live performance of The Sweet Divines at Union Hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I made it to their first show in Brooklyn Heights at the Magnetic Field but arrived just in time to catch the tail-end of their last song and the wonderful treat of the Mighty Hannibal joining them on stage for a surprise cameo. Someone's already written up a very flattering review of the show at Union Hall here, but I will mention that Sharon Jones (of the Dap Kings fame) made a short, but sweet cameo. It's too bad that the Union Hall stage is only several inches above the dance floor because I think most people weren't able to even see that Sharon was there (no offense meant towards Ms. Jones; she may be a soul-singing giant, but she ain't too tall).

The Sweet Divines have a good formula going on. They ain't bad to look at, they can sing, they mostly sing about sex (not explicitly, but it ain't too obscured neither) and they have a great back-up band. Now that I think about it, they've really gone back to the essence of what made so many classic girl groups so great: dance-able songs, pretty faces, taboo topics, and great performances. All of the four vocalists have chops to spare and they all come with their own style. You have to see them live to get the full effect. There are a few shows coming up in the NYC area for those of you who are local.

The funny thing is that when I got to their first show I recognized one of the vocalists, Pamela Quinn, as a friend of a friend of mine from college. Small world. Big up, Georgetown Phantoms!

So I picked up their only release to date, a three-song CD and while all of the songs are solid mid-to-late 60s style soul tunes, "Honeythistle" is the clear standout. Interestingly, from the live show they had several other songs that I liked better than these three, so I can't wait for the full length to appear.

The Sweet Divines - Honeythistle
So, swing by their website and get on their mailing list or check them out at their next show. These ladies are just out of the starting gate and already they are going strong!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Gringo Bossa Nova

My initial inspiration for collecting records was a way for me to further explore my newest musical passion, Bossa Nova. Bossa is a strange musical genre because it means many things to many people. When I first started out I thought the essence of Bossa was Astrud Gilberto or even Charlie Byrd's "Jazz Samba," but the deeper I dug, the more I realized how much Bossa morphed according to international trends, producing strange and exciting hybrids like Sergio Mendes' Brazil '66/'77/'88 projects. What did happen was that "Bossa Nova" became a style into itself, something that jazz, pop, rock and even soul musicians could use for a song or two and then forget, like "Joe Carioca," pictured above.

"Joe" is the classic emblem of this Brazilian-American fusion, "Jose Carioca" aka "Joe Carioca" from the 1942 Disney movie "Saludos Amigos." Joe is Disney's version of a typical Brazilian. He's a bit crass and more Disney than he is Brazilian, but like the following songs, he's got just enough Brazilian flavor to make him exotic and palatable to American audiences. The following five songs are but a few of my favorite Bossa-tinged tunes by Gringo musicians from the 60s and 70s . . .

Chris Montez - Keep Talkin'
OK, so my first selection is from someone who would no doubt resent being labeled a gringo . . . the L.A. born Chicano singer, Chris Montez. Chris recorded several albums for A&M, home to Sergio Mendes who was regularly introducing Brazilian tunes to the American chart through his best-selling Brazil '66 albums. Chris recorded a very early version of Joao Donato's instrumental "Amazonas" with English lyrics called "Keep Talkin'." It's not confirmed, but it is possible that Joao was responsible for the song's inclusion and may have even been on the recording as he was in L.A. around that time. The song sounds a bit cutesy now, but I am a sucker for just about any Donato version and this one is no exception.

The Supremes - Precious Little Things
This is a nice little soul-bossa tune by post-Diana Supremes. The song was co-written by Smokey Robinson who also produced this album. The album is a delight as are all of the early post-Diana albums and this one has at least four other solid tunes. Once again Smokey's touch is magical as the lyrics and subtle instrumentation create a gentle and touching song set to a slightly tropical beat.

Jon Lucien - Satan
Jon Lucien is also no gringo, having been born in the British Virgin Islands, but he spent nearly all of his recording and performing career in the U.S. This song is off of his album Rashida, his best in my opinion. If I didn't know before hand I would have been absolutely convinced that this song was authentically South American as Jon is a dead wringer for Milton Nascimento style crooning/warbling. The instrumentation also nails the early 70s Brazilian studio vibe. A great song from a lesser known jazz vocalist.

Michael Franks - B'wana He No Home
Michael Franks is a gringo. I was initially embarrassed to like this, but now it's one of my favorite songs, again with no small part to Joao Donato guesting on piano (check out his outro vamp . . . so perfect). This is from Frank's third album and features a couple of tunes recorded down in Brazil with some local help. Evidently the lyrics to the song (listen closely cause they're funny/sleazy/interesting) refer to a time when Dan Hicks (of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks) was staying at Franks' place while he was away . . .

Dee Dee Bridgewater - Night Moves
Dee Dee is another excellent jazz vocalist that turns this Michael Frank's song from his "Art of Tea" album into a bass-heavy Bossa Nova tune. The band is great on this tune and Dee Dee finds a middle-ground between sexy and sleazy, falling closer to the sexy side whereas the previous tune (above) falls on the sleazy side.

I could keep going for days with these kinds of songs and maybe I'll do another round sometime in the future. Keep in mind that all of these records (excepting the Jon Lucien) can be found in most dollar bins which is a nice reminder that great songs can be found on all kinds of records, expensive or cheap.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sunday Strumming

Sorry, for the delay in posting. Life's been a bit hectic as of late, but I'm back home now and have a string of posts lined up that I hope to get online this week. Today we're gonna start with some recent acquisitions: Gabor Szabo & Luiz Bonfá. I'd also like to highlight some excellent independent record stores from whence I purchased these two items for very reasonable prices. I picked up the Bonfá at a shop in Hampden, a neighborhood of Baltimore, MD on a trip down to those parts earlier this week. The shop is called "The True Vine" and I suggest you pop in next time you pass through the Mid-Atlantic region. When I was there they had lots of new stock lined up on the floor. The condition of the records varied but the prices were very reasonable with lots of items going for three bucks (including the long sought-after Dave Pike album "Bossa Nova Carnival" from 1962 where he covers only João Donato tunes!)

The Gabor Szabo record I picked up at "Eat Records" in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The shop's been open for a few years now and sadly this was only my third time in there. They recently renovated and added more seating as it also doubles as a cafe. I was able to drink a beer while rummaging through their racks! The prices are about the best you can find for an actual store in New York City. The owner that I met is very nice and helpful, though they're working on organization as it can be difficult to find something if you're looking for a particular artist or album. Now on to the tunes . . .

Luiz Bonfá - Amazonas
I've been a fan of Bonfá since my early Bossa Nova obsession but lately I've been passing on his records because he's got so many albums and fast and furious guitar is just not really my thing. I picked this one up because it was an early collaboration with Eumir Deodato on arrangements. It was Bonfá who brought Deodato to the U.S. to do arrangements for his wife's, Maria Toledo, first U.S. release on Dot Records. So, Bonfá was an early champion of Deodato's and used him for arrangements on several later 60s sessions as well as on his sole funky album "Jacaranda"(thanks Loronix!). This is a short and sweet little track that I first thought was his take on the classic João Donato tune, but it's a Bonfá original with a nice little percussion break-down in the middle.

Gabor Szabo - Somewhere I Belong
This Gabor Szabo album is one of the few he did on Skye Records, a label he co-owned with Gary McFarland and Cal Tjader - what a chill record exec. lounge that must have been - that lasted only a few years as McFarland died all of a sudden (there's a nice article about him in a recent Wax Poetics). The album has lots of pop covers that are alright, but as soon as I dropped the needle on this last cut from the second side, I had to listen to the whole song right there. If this hasn't been sampled, then some producer out there needs to hop to it . . . so dark and moody and those drums have a really nice echo to them.