Ronald Mesquita ‘Brésil 72’ LP/CD (Mr Bongo) 5/5

A long-term favourite album among Brazilian music fans that was re-issued on the French Barclay label which it originally surfaced on in 1972, this is best known for the opening song ‘Balança Pema’, which is a hard-hitting samba tune with joint male and female lead vocals. It has become a household dancefloor winner and has been covered by other singers and sampled by hip-hop DJ Madlib. However, as good as this number is, the album as a whole contains several superb cuts and in a multitude of styles. In essence, drummer and leader Mesquita has taken the 1960s Sergio Mendes vocal sound and given it a harder edge. Thus collective vocal harmonies combine with a meaty dose of assorted percussion instruments, Fender Rhodes and reeds included. That makes for a compelling ensemble and the track listing of songs draws from some of the key Brazilian songwriters of the era which include Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jorge Ben, Gilberto Gil and Edu Lobo.

Ronald Mesquita himself was no novice in that he earned his living as a session drummer with Luis Carlos Vinha and the latter’s group, Bossa Três. Sample the sophistication of Jobim’s ‘Agua de Março’, which Jobim and Elis Regina made into a major pop duet hit and compare that with the subtle flute-led ‘Papagayo’, with wordless chorus and gently crafted Fender Rhodes. A personal favourite is the uptempo ‘Quatro de Decembro’, which is notable for the distinctive use of cuica drum, and where the male lead and chorus lead into a thrilling finale. The only pity is that although Marily Tavares is present, the fine singing is not name checked which she/they fully deserve to be. Those sublime joint harmonies work wonderfully together on, ‘Tarde em Itapôa’, which Vinicius de Moraes and Toquinho duetted on to great effect, while the mid-tempo spiritual jazz infused, ‘Cançao do Saltema de Tostão’, is a hidden gem that should not be underestimated. Now available in both vinyl and CD formats, this is one album you cannot do without.

Tim Stenhouse