In this the fiftieth anniversary of the advent of bossa nova, it is, perhaps, pertinent to reflect on what followed directly afterwards. Bossa nova took elements of US jazz and refined (some would say watered down)traditional samba. Younger artists such as Jorge Ben had taken on board this fusion in earlier works, most notably ‘Mas que nada’, but were eager to explore and combine new American rhythms and associated closely with soul (and later funk). It is in this light that one should view ‘Jorge Ben (1969)’ as an album that marks the transition from the imitation of a prevailing musical trend (bossa nova)to the work of an innovator who would pioneeer what became known as samba rock and one that has long been a rare collectors item. By 1969 Ben had gained notoriety as a composer with ‘Cade Tereza’ featuring on a traditional samba album by ‘Os Originais do Samba’ (released on CD in recent years in Brazil)and with ‘Pais Tropical’ which became a hit for Wilson Simonal.
For ‘Jorge Ben’ the singer-songwriter enlisted the backing of Trio Macoto and this would be the first of a series of recordings together during which time Ben found his distinctive sound. Arrangements came courtesy of Rogerio Duprat, synonymous with the tropicalia movement, but here never over-intrusive and allowing plenty of space for Ben and Trio Macoto to stretch out. Evidently Ben had come under the influence of the then emerging black consciousness movement in the States and this is reflected in the ‘black is beautiful’ message behind ‘Criola’ and in the lyrics to ‘Take it easy my Brother Charles’, both instantly catchy songs. Perhaps the album’s highlight, however, is the stirring ‘Bebete Vaobora’ with solo guitar intro, impassioned vocals and sparse brass combining to wonderful effect. The signature tunes ‘Pais Tropical’ and Cade Tereza’ are faithfully reproduced whereas ‘Que Pena’ differs from the later 1980s hit duet between Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso in that it is taken a decidedly quicker tempo. For this re-issue excellent graphics with the original (and legendary)front and back cover are supplemented by detailed notes on the recording. By the time ‘Jorge Ben’ had been released, Ben had left his early works such as ‘Mas que nada’ behind and was intent on creating something closer to the roots of samba, but that at the same time would appeal to a younger audience. He would fully achieve his goal five years or so later with the release of ‘Africa, Brasil’. Tim Stenhouse