Mônica Vasconcelos ‘The São Paulo Tapes: Brazilian Resistance Songs’ (MOVA) 4/5

Now resident in London, but a native of Brazil, Mônica Vasconcelos has quietly established a reputation and both accompanied and supported some major name musicians, ranging from Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Gilberto Gil and Joyce on the Brazilian music tour circuit, to Brian Ferry and Courtney Pine further afield. Moreover, she has performed at prestigious venues and festivals with Barbican, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, the Jazz Café and Ronnie Scott’s all figuring in the mix. This new recording has a wonderfully sparse feel to it and that is largely down to the expert production talents of Robert Wyatt, with this fruitful collaboration resulting in arguably Mônica Vasconcelos’s most accomplished album to date. She deserves credit for tackling the slightly less well-known side of Brazilian singer-songwriters, with the pairing of João Bosco and Aldir Blanc covered on several songs, while other worthwhile composers such as Geraldo Vandré and even Caetano Veloso are interpreted. A multi-national band featuring Liam Noble on piano provide empathetic and sensitive accompaniment.

The album title of resistance songs is in reference to the Brazilian military dictatorship that existed between 1964 and 1985 and it was the subversive and often coded messages contained in songs that provided the main form of resistance to the military junta. A gentle, reflective mood permeates the album with the opener, ‘Agnus sei’, illustrative of the acoustic and pared down use of instrumentation. There are hints of both Flora Purim and Joyce here, but starting off at a sedate pace, the song gathers force and morphs into an uptempo vehicle. Mid-tempo numbers predominate such as the lovely, ‘Abre alas’, that was originally penned by Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins, and their writing talents are further showcased on the very Joyce sounding ‘Aos nossos filhos’. Pianist Liam Noble stretches out on ‘Angélica’, while Monica is in more reflective mode on ‘Disparada’, which may well be thus titled in reference to those Brazilian citizens who disappeared in less than clear circumstances by the military. An English language song that Caetano Veloso wrote while in London in the early 1970s, ‘London, London’, adds a new dimension to the album as both Gilberto Gil and Veloso sought political refuge from the military by moving to Europe for a period. This is an album that departs from the previous records of Mônica Vasconcelos and certainly deserves to be heard by a public not accustomed to the folksier side of Brazilian music as this is a completely different style to the bossa nova re-interpretations that predominate in Europe and North America.

Tim Stenhouse