Jorge Ben ‘The Definitive Collection’ 2CD (Wrasse) 5/5

As a songwriter Jorge Ben (changed to Jorge Benjor later in life) is only marginally behind Tom Jobim in terms of the affection he receives in his native Brazil and as a purveyor of the samba-funk style in the 1970s, he can rightly be regarded as one of the most innovative figures in Brazilian music in the last fifty years. This comprehensive overview of his career from the early 1960s through to the mid-1970s covers all the classics and a fair few more. It was ‘Mas que nada’ that catipulted Ben to national prominence and thereafter Sergio Mendes’ version that enthralled the entire world and has been regularly trotted out as a theme tune whenever the Brazilian football team are in town. During this period Ben was clearly under the influence of the bossa nova composers such as Jobim and Lyra among a whole host of other great songwriters (Bahian legend Dorival Caymmi should never be forgotten, nor Vinicius de Moraes) and this is reflected further in songs such as ‘Chove chuva’ and ‘Balanca pena’, the latter of which took on a modern and funkier flavour when Maris Monte interpreted it gloriously in the mid-1990s on her ‘Rose and charcoal’ CD. As the 1960s progresed so did Ben’s musical style which was taking on an increasingly Afro-Brazilian tinge. Compositions such as ‘Comancho’ off a super rare vinyl album and ‘Oba là vem elà’ heralded in a new era during which Jorge Ben would take on board the innovations in US soul and funk, but with a more acoustic flavour in keeping with the Brazilian musical heritage. The bass and brass intro to the killer Portugese lyrics, but English chorus and title of ‘Take it easy my brother Charles’ was testimony to this newly emerging style as was the equally impressive ‘Bebete vao boro’. Indeed so influential was Ben becoming by the mid-1970s that Rod Stewart, upon hearing the irresistable groove of ‘Taj Mahal’, copied the melody and came up with a hit single ‘Do ya think I’m sexy’. Ben repaid the compliment by taking Stewart to court and successfully winning his case. From the seminal ‘Afirca Brasil’ album the stunning ‘Xico da Silva’ is also the tale of a runaway slave and it would be wrong not to view Jorge Ben’s music output without at the very least understanding some of his deeply held views on what it meant to be a black Brazilian in a world where white Brazilians dominated the corridors of power. Forty songs of the highest calibre and as ever tastefully packaged by Wrasse. A triumph from start to finish.

Tim Stenhouse