Fifteen years ago, three stars of Brazilian music came together in what seemed like a lark, a one-time knock-off project, but the album surprisingly spawned several hits around the world.
Calling themselves Tribalistas, the three – singer Marisa Monte, percussionist Carlinhos Brown and art-rocker Arnaldo Antunes – were old friends, and their easy-going camaraderie imbued every song with a loose-limbed, affable charm. While the album came out of the blue, in retrospect it should have been no surprise that the trio would do so well. After all, the three were abundantly talented and creative in their own ways. In fact, one of the interesting features of the project was the creative push and pull of their three distinct personalities and voices.
Monte was raised in Rio amid a family steeped in traditional samba, but she went off to Italy to train in bel canto opera. At the suggestion of a teacher, she returned to Brazilian music and ever since has been both a critical and popular success for her gorgeous voice and immaculately produced albums, which meld elements from Brazil and abroad. Brown was born in a poor neighborhood in Salvador and, without a formal musical education, was taken under the wing of a local drum master. He became a favored session musician, then started his own drum-dominated Afro-Brazilian pop band, Timbalada. Feverishly inventive and more than a little quirky, Brown then embarked on a solo career, which most recently included being a coach on Brazilian TV's version of The Voice. The cooly cerebral Antunes became well-known for his work with the seminal Brazilian art-rock group Titas.
Paralleling their varied personalities are their voices: Monte has a sweet, sumptuous voice, whether she is singing lyrics or wordless vocals, while Antunes has a bullfroggy croak and Brown has a lovely crooning mid-range.
This sophomore album, 15 years after their first, has arrived with little of the fanfare that one would assume from such a notable crew. The album is a digital release and there is no promotional tour. Whether this was something they spontaneously decided to do amid busy schedules, the result is still a thoroughly enjoyable balmy ride.
As easygoing as the album feels, it is still some finely rendered pop. It may have been relatively thrown together amid the trio's busy schedules, but it never feels slapdash. The arrangements are carefully mapped out, keeping the songs interesting and evolving. Each song has nice embellishments festooned along the lovely melodies and gently insistent percussion. While there are short stretches of solo singing, they pretty much sing together on every song in duos or trios (and sometimes with multiple overdubs of Monte's wordless vocalizing), adding to the Three Musketeers feel of camaraderie and shared playfulness.
“Fora da Memória” is a dreamy, sweet tune that rolls along gently as the trio's voices intertwine in various shades of prettiness around the spare instrumentation.
The simmering but insistent “Tribalivre” moves to a percussively strummed guitar and an understated chorus of hand played-percussion, gathering momentum as it adds layer upon layer of sounds with each verse.
“Baião do Mundo” is another acoustic-rhythm guitar-driven song, featuring a slow langorous melody floating over a galloping rhythm. The quiescent “Anima” features Monte's sweet voice, while the arrangement peppers contrasting light daubs of odd sounds amid the billowy multi-dubbed vocals.
“Feliz e saudavel” features a busy acoustic guitar and the trio singing the chorus together, creating a joyous back-porch jam feel.
Like their debut album, Tribalistas' second shows this trio's effortless charm and ability to produce an album that may not have loftier ambitions than to enjoy each other's company and celebrate their common joy in making music. This is a party where hosts and guests all seem to be having an equally good time. - Marty Lipp