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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1762

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BossaCucaNova: Our Kind of Bossa
by George Graham

(Six Degrees Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/12/014)

The popularity of world music in the US has a long history, and tends to run in cycles. There was a period in the early 20th Century when jazz musicians came to adopt Latin rhythms. And there were occasional musical forays into styles from seemingly exotic places, sometimes because of movies that were set in such locations, or sometimes because of something just happening to catch on. Latin American and Cuban music had a wave of popularity in the 1950s with the mambo. In the 1960s, Stan Getz' big hit with Astrud Gilberto, The Girl from Ipanema started a whole wave of Brazilian bossa nova and samba music finding audiences in the US, and were adopted by a lot of jazz musicians. In the 1980s, Paul Simon's influential album Graceland opened many American music fans' ears to African music, and since then, there has been a steady stream of world music reaching American audiences, and indeed the world music category has been rather firmly established in the Grammy Awards. With the globalization of communication, there has been a real proliferation of cross-cultural mixtures, some with fascinating results.

This week we have an interesting and enjoyable album by a long-running Brazilian group who do a kind of cross-cultural mix of classic bossa nova sounds from the 1960s with electronica and funk. They call themselves BossaCucaNova, and their new CD is Our Kind of Bossa.

BossaCucaNova got their start some fifteen years ago as basically kind of remix dance and hip-hop project, mixing together some classic Brazilian pop with beats and grooves from a turntable DJ. Over they years, they have progressed to an group making original music, though the sample-based aspect and occasional turntable scratching are still a among their ingredients. For this album they enlist a number of established, and often well-known artists in Brazil to do lead vocals, sometimes on newer songs, and sometimes on older bossa tunes. The result is quite satisfying, a sound that evokes Brazilian pop and bossa nova that hints of the 1960s, with more contemporary elements, and some great guest vocalists.

The three principal members of BossaCucaNova are Marcelinho "DJ" DaLua, who is credited throughout the album as providing the "beats," keyboard man Alex Moreira, and bass player Marcio Menescal, who is the son of a Brazilian pioneer of bossa nova, Roberto Menescal. But every track has a cast of added musicians, with different guest lead vocalists on each piece, and added players including the late guitar great Oscar Castro-Neves, plus a variety of horn and string players. One of the group's trademarks is their use of studio effects like sampling and other sonic manipulation, in the cause of getting a strong groove. It all works quite well and is tastefully done.

The CD opens with a remake of a Latin American hit, Adeus America with a guest vocals by Wilson Simoninha. Like much of the rest of the album, the sound is upbeat and often whimsical. <<>>

Deixa a Menina highllights the long-running relationship between jazz and bossa nova. The guest vocalist is Maria Rita, who is very well known in Brazil. The Dave Friedman jazz trio provides much of the accompaniment, with just occasional electronica beats. <<>>

An original BossaCucaNova composition called Balança (Não Pode Parar!) recalls some of the upbeat Brazilian pop style of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66. Vocalist Cris Delanno is featured with the group which includes horn arrangements that suggest the 1960s. <<>>

A piece with a classic bossa nova sound is É Presiso Perdoar, which features the vocals of Emiliano Santiago, along with a string section. Again, BossaCucaNova adds their studio tricks and electronic beats, but it's fairly subtle. <<>>

The album's more musically lighthearted side comes out on the track called Segure Tudo which roughly translates as "all is safe." Cris Delanno is joined by Martinho da Vila on the vocals. The track brings out one of the shortcomings of the album for most Americans -- no translations are provided for the Brazilian-dialect Portuguese. <<>>

Another infectious original track is Ficar, or "stay." The vocalist is Marcela Mangabiera, and an interesting touch is the prominent cello. <<>>

The group goes to back to their original premise of taking bossa nova songs and remixing and rearranging them, on a Jorge Ben composition called Waldomiro Pena again featuring Wilson Simoninha on the vocals. BossaCucaNova add their good-natured sonic interjections, and they alter the classic bossa nova sound with their more techno-oriented beat. <<>>

BossaCucaNova also takes up that other classic Brazilian style, samba, on the track called Deixa Pra La, with the guest vocal by Teresa Cristina. It's a great eclectic mix with the subtle electronic bits added to an almost plaintive clarinet. <<>>

Our Kind of Bossa the new American release by BossaCucaNova is a thoroughly enjoyable world beat album, taking classic bossa nova ingredients, along with a little samba, and mixing in samples and subtle techno, plus some clever sonic manipulation. Almost every track has a different guest vocalist, and a number of them are veteran Brazilian bossa nova performers, who add a good deal of authenticity to the mix. Something like this could easily get too far into the electronica or hip-hop, but the three principal members of BossaCucaNova show an appreciation and respect for the music while also having a good deal of fun with it. This is definitely an upbeat danceable album, and you won't find a slow ballad on it. As mentioned, there are no translations provided for the Portuguese lyrics, which would help us monolinguals better enjoy what often sound like playful lyrics. But then again, Brazilian dialect as it relates to slang is hard to translate. In fact, the band's website is also in Portuguese.

Our grade for sound quality is a C-plus. The sonic manipulations and studio tricks are well-handled, and the mix is quite respectable. But whether it was in the mix or the mastering, the volume and compression was cranked up to the point that there is noticeable and irritating distortion on the vocals at times and occasionally on the instrumentation.

Whether you are a long-time fan of Brazilian music, someone who enjoys world music fusion, or are just looking for fun dance record that can make you smile, then BossaCucaNova's new CD may well be "your kind of bossa."

(c) Copyright 2014 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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