Various Artists ‘Brazilika: 20th Anniversary’ 2CD (Far Out) 4/5

brazilikaThe United Kingdom should be proud of its cultural and sporting links with Brazil which are long-standing and go way back to colonial times and the friendly relations entered into with the then colonising power, Portugal. Post-independence, those links have continued to flourish and it is in this light that one should view the pioneering efforts of the Far Out label under the leadership of Joe Davis. This two-CD anthology can but provide an overview of a label that is now in its twentieth year and well established as the premier label showcasing Brazilian music, not only in the UK, but arguably in Europe as a whole. It is divided up into two parts, the first focusing on the major names featuring on the label as well as a few of the lesser known artists who have enjoyed success. The second is more club-oriented and features favoured remixes of some of the most danceable cuts. We shall focus primarily on the original recordings here.
One aspect of Far Out that is sometimes lost in the mix is that it does contain some seriously rootsy Brazilian recordings and Nana Vasconcelos is a musician in point. His marvellous duet album with Mauricio Maestro remains a personal highlight of this writer and from that comes the delicious ‘Jungle Bells’. Far Out would do well to include future roots albums of this quality. As a leader in his own right, Vasconcelos offers up another piece, ‘Clementina’, that exemplifies what a fine percussionist he is and this accompanied by collective vocals and what sounds like a trombone, but is probably another percussion instrument.

Jazz-tinged Brazilika is what far Out is rightly famed for and Azymuth is the group that personified that particular sound. If ‘Jazz Carnival’ was the apex of their commercial career, then a second instalment still makes for essential listening on the moody sounding, ‘In my tea house’, which does come across as a ‘Jazz Carnival Pt.2’. In total, Azymuth feature on the two CDs more than any other musicians and their relationship with the label is, perhaps, closest of all.

Samba-flavoured jazz is a sub-genre that the Brazilians have perfected and Joyce [Moreno] is one of the major practitioners. A cult singer-songwriter in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she had hit the big time in Brazil in the late 1980s. Far Out wisely signed her up and the rest is history as they say. Of her numerous recordings for the label (‘Hard Bossa’ is a classic of the genre), a duet with samba veteran Elza Soares works a treat on ‘Samba de Silvia’ and in fact duets are a constant feature of Brazilian music, whether that be brother-sister as with Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethânia, or two women as with Bethânia and Gal Costa, or even two men with the likes of Gilberto Gil and Veloso, or the great poet Chico Buarque. The duet here fits very much into that tradition. A veteran performer by the 1990s, Marcus Valle, was all but abandoned by his native country, but this merely served as the inspiration for Far Out to sign him up and re-invigorate his career and that is precisely what happened and a parallel can be made there with US singer Mark Murphy. A taste of neo-bossa is on hand in ‘Escape’ with wordless scatting that is the singer’s distinctive mark. Legendary group the Ipanemas were re-signed to a record label after several decades of recording inactivity and ‘Imperial’ is a slice of authentic retro Brazilian jazz as only they know how.

Far Out has been keen to promote new talent as well and female singers have featured prominently. One such chanteuse is Sabrina Malheiros, daughter of Azymuth bassist Alex, but a fine musician in her own right. On this occasion she offers the subtlest of vocals on a Nicola Conte reworking, ‘Brisa mar’ and the voicing is decidedly Gal Costa in tone. Clara Moreno is another young singer who has developed over albums and far Out are to be applauded for helping to promote the up and coming musicians, even at a time when the classic Brazilian sounds may seem somewhat passé to those in fields of dance and electronica.

No attention to detail is spared. Connoisseurs of Brazilian music will note the use of ‘Série deluxe’ inserted on the cover. That was used to denote the early and classic Philips records of the 1970s and the likes of Jorge Ben, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil and Edu Lobo among many others featured on these now hard to find slices of vinyl delight. Far Out have continued the for quality Brazilian music past, present and future and that is likely to be their lasting legacy.

Tim Stenhouse