Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jorge Ben: Força Bruta (1970)

This is the third installment of a special feature I'm doing on Jorge Ben here at Wanwood. He's the first of a series of artists to whom I plan to give special attention, owing to their tremendous creative firepower, fecundity, and—in Jorge's case—peculiar neglect among listeners outside Brazil. My own thinking is that, with the advent of file sharing, and especially the remarkable flourish of music blogs over the past two or three years, the good news about musicians like Jorge—previously known only to privileged coteries—will gradually diffuse worldwide. Little by little, iPods everywhere are beginning to bounce and thump with grooves that, in decades past, were the exclusive domain of the vinyl-purchasing underground.

In a sense, all you really need to know about Força Bruta (1970) is distilled in the first, and arguably best, track on the record, "Oba, La Vem Ela" ("Oh, damn! Here she comes"). In brief, the song tells the story of a guy who spots a beautiful woman approaching—a woman whom he knows intimately though she is oblivious to him—and becomes irrepressibly excited in her presence, in spite of the fact that she doesn't notice him. The most obvious and frequently-drawn parallel is to "The Girl from Ipanema," but an even closer analogue is "Cyprus Avenue" from Van Morrison's Astral Weeks (1968). Both songs are, beneath the surface, about unbridled desire—specifically male desire—for a love object that remains unattainable, and about how ultimately it's of no consequence whether the feelings are requited or not. The real burden of the meaning in each far exceeds the literal sense of the words, which, especially in "Oba, La Vem Ela," are pretty bare bones: the speaker's gradually mounting excitement bordering on frenzy, the frustration and finally the rage of thwarted sexual need—these are emotional terrains that lie beyond the reach of language, but are bodied forth with all the clarity and force of revelation in the song's marvelous vocals, suave but eventually screaming. Critics of Jorge Ben sometimes complain that his music wasn't adequately subversive, since it didn't directly address the political injustices occurring in Brazil during the 1960s and 70s (unlike, famously, Caetano Veloso's and Gilberto Gil's). But I wonder if these same people have listened to the end of "Oba, La Vem Ela" (or for that matter "Africa Brasil (Zumbi)" off Africa Brasil, or any number of similarly furious Jorge songs): lyrically it's innocuous enough, but acoustically it's incredibly subversive, even terrifying. Much of Jorge's catalogue, in fact, crackles with a rebellious energy whose equal I find nowhere in Veloso's or Gil's music, no matter how politically defiant their lyrics might be.

And, oh, that voice! Yes, it's capable of snarling and shrieking, but most of the time on Força Bruta it's seductively mellow and relaxed. A commenter on YouTube puts it aptly: "Uuuuuugggghhhhhh that honey soulful voice melts my heart and makes me smile everytime!" Another: "Jorge Ben is more addictive than doritos, crack and cigarettes combined!!" Hyperbole, maybe, but not by much! Jorge's is one of the few voices, in fact, that withstand comparison with Van Morrison's: both have a rough-hewn gorgeousness that, when impassioned, can simply spellbind you with their intensity--their vocal pirouettes--and when subdued can seem like some blissful opiate.  And the latter, again, is how Força Bruta most often comes off, with Jorge--backed by the Trio Mocoto--piling one freewheeling samba pastiche on top of the other.  "Ze Canjica," "Charles Jr.," "O Telefone Tocou Novamente," and the ultra-catchy "Mulher Brasileira"--these are the gold nuggets of the record; and if your tastes are at all similar to mine, you'll get more pure mileage out of them than most any other Ben record.  It's quite true that it's not nearly as packed with ideas as its predecessor, the celebrated Jorge Ben (1969)--and some contend, in fact, that its stripped-down quality was a result of Ben's exhaustion after completing the prior album--but between the two of them, this is the one I nearly always go to when I need a fix.  Awash with strings, unflaggingly cool, the whole of Força Bruta sounds like it was recorded in a haze of cannabis smoke.  Turn it on, lie back, and drift away.

The password for this one, as for all of the Jorge records, is "vibes".  Enjoy!

Força Bruta

1. Oba, La Vem Ela
2. Ze Canjica
3. Domenica Domingava Num Domingo Toda de Branco
4. Charles Jr.
5. Pulo, Pulo
6. Apareceu Aparecida
7. O Telefone Tocou Novamente
8. Mulher Brasileira
9. Terezinha
10. Forca Bruta

1 comment:

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