Kassin ‘Relax’ LP/CD/DIG (Luaka Bop) 5/5

If the esoteric front cover with futuristic pose and photo of Kassin covered in ‘hundreds and thousands’ seems a tad confusing, then the music within is sublime and one of the best new Brazilian releases in many a year. First of all, a few details on the artist. Kassin is a singer-songwriter and keyboardist who is a close friend and collaborator of Moreno Veloso, son of Brazilian post-Tropicalia legend, Caetano Veloso. In fact, Kassin gained useful experience performing on tour with the elder Veloso, but this is very much his own album. As an arranger, Kassin was in charge of the Orchestra Imperial project and that has served him extremely well here where soul and funk-tinged grooves require tight rhythm sections with flute and brass.

The backdrop to the album as a whole is, surprisingly given the uptempo sound, the recent divorce that Kassin has gone through, and it seems once again that when an artist expresses in music the very act of suffering, that tends to make for an exhilarating musical experience as with Amy Winehouse. It has to be stated that, although the subject matter expressed in Portuguese is deeply serious, the music itself is actually joyous and uplifting, with a nod to the past in Brazilian music, echoing the keyboard prowess of Joao Donato and Walter Wanderley, but still very much couched in the present. Indeed, it is Kassin’s ability to move between past and present that creates the artistic tension that makes this album such a wonderful listen.

That atmosphere is created from the outset on the opener, ‘Compromidos Demais'(‘Overpriced pills’), with quirky keyboard notes, and the perfect accompaniment to a scorching hot summer’s day. That floating 1960s ambience with a strong cinematic feel permeates ‘O Anestesista’ (‘The anethesis’). It is true to say that in parts the music does adopt a slightly darker tone, as with ‘A Paisagem Morta’ (‘Dead landscape’), which is a bossa nova in character and conveys the initial moments of a break up. Furthermore, in the mid-tempo, ‘As Coisas Que Nos Não Fizemos’ (‘The things we do not do’), Kassin reflects no how with the divorce he and his former partner have failed each other. If that sounds off-putting, then only a good understanding of lyrics in Portuguese would make you aware of that. A real favourite is the party mood funk groove of ‘Momento de Clareza’ (‘Moment of clarity’), which contains the most subtle of riffs and is a grower of a song. Moody bass lines, Fender Rhodes and rhythm guitar are a consistent feature on this album. Just about the only aspect that does need rectifying is the impossible to decipher lyrics which are in a minute font size in red over a black background, though in fairness the lavish gatefold sleeve is a visual delight. Even with lyrics in both English and Portuguese they are near impossible to fathom without a magnifying glass. Otherwise, this is quite simply one of the albums of the year and by a clear distance the best new Brazilian recording that this writer has heard in some time. For that alone, Kassin deserves some newly found happiness in his life.

Tim Stenhouse