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Lovely Day: Aretha, Sly, Andy, Marvin and Billie Headline “The Brazil Connection”

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Brazil ConnectionWell, summer is officially upon us! Already there’s talk about which songs will be anointed the perfect summer jams for 2014 – songs by artists like Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea and the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams. If those names don’t set your pulse racing, however, Legacy Recordings has an alternative that’s bound to conjure up images of tropical sunsets, refreshing drinks and summer breeze. Studio Rio Presents The Brazil Connection makes over 12 pop classics from the Sony vaults by melding the original vocals with new bossa nova and samba arrangements written and/or played by some of Brazil’s top musicians including Torcuato Mariano, Paulo Braga, and bossa legends Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal. The artists represent a cross-section of genres such as R&B (Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye) to jazz (Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck and Carmen McRae), and traditional pop (Andy Williams, Mel Torme). The Brazil Connection arrives in stores today, just in time to coincide with the 2014 World Cup being held in Brazil.

Producers Frank and Christian Berman’s Studio Rio aggregation is successful in retaining an organic sound for most of these familiar recordings in their new, chill Brazilian settings. One can fairly question the practice of grafting new productions around vintage tracks – especially from deceased artists, whether Williams, Holiday, Gaye or Brubeck, just to name a few – but these Rio de Janeiro-made recordings are fun, tasteful and faithful to the spirit, if not the style, of the originals.

Most radical – and one of the album’s undisputed highlights – is the transformation of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 chart-topper “Family Affair” from lean, dark funk to soft and sensual tropicalia. Gone are the electric piano, bass and early drum machine; in their place is a lush and mellow complement of guitar, piano, bass, drums, flugelhorn, tenor and alto saxophones and trombone. The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” both get rousing, lively reinventions from co-arrangers Mariano and The Berman Brothers. (“It’s Your Thing” is also featured on Sony’s official World Cup 2014 album, One Love, One Rhythm.) Another R&B great, Bill Withers, sees his 1977 “Lovely Day” shorn of its sleek R&B rhythm and replaced with a brassy yet contemporary Brazilian groove. One misses the iconic original backing of Johnny Nash’s 1972 No. 1 hit “I Can See Clearly Now,” though the new, cheerful backing is a perfect match for the song’s lyrical sentiments.

Unsurprisingly, Aretha Franklin’s 1964 recording of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk on By” lends itself well to the treatment here. One of the Queen of Soul’s Columbia tracks that most anticipates her soulful direction at the Atlantic label, “Walk on By” thrives in Roberto Menescal’s alluring arrangement, as Latin rhythms are in the DNA of a Bacharach melody. Similarly, Mel Torme’s 1965 rendition of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is a natural for Studio Rio, with arranger Mario Adnet seemingly channeling Claus Ogerman’s work on the seminal Sinatra/Jobim collaboration between another great American singer and Brazil’s answer to George Gershwin. Marcos Valle turns in a fun chart (and also plays Fender Rhodes) on Andy Williams’ hard-swinging “Music to Watch Girls By.” Williams was no stranger to Valle’s music, making this a particularly inspired choice. Roberto Menescal joins Valle on guitar for this upbeat samba.

We have more after the jump – including the complete track listing and order links!  

There’s something admittedly unusual about hearing Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, two of the most distinctive and idiosyncratic voices in all of American song, in the bossa nova idiom. Miraculously, Holiday’s 1958 recording of “You’ve Changed” sounds fresh and vibrant in Mariano’s new arrangement. Simone’s stirringly affecting “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” has some beautiful horn work from Jesse Sadoc on trumpet and flugelhorn and Marcelo Martins on tenor saxophone, but loses a bit of its immediacy in this satiny version. The vocal version of The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five” – composed by Paul Desmond (not Brubeck, as credited here) with lyrics by Dave and Iola Brubeck – is another breath of fresh air as sung by yet another iconic female singer: Carmen McRae. The legendary Sarah Vaughan closes out The Brazil Connection with her smoky rendition of George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s Porgy and Bess aria “Summertime,” driven by Rafael Vernet’s slinky piano.

Is The Brazil Connection a novelty? Perhaps, yet it’s one produced with artistic integrity. The disc offers an intriguing alternative look at twelve favorite songs given a fresh new sound in the timeless bossa nova idiom.   You might agree with Billie Holiday: “You’ve changed,” indeed. But as soundtracks for summer go, it should provide an enjoyable backdrop for the coming months of sunny days. Grab your sunglasses, find the nearest tiki bar and order yourself a mai tai. The Brazil Connection will conjure up images of that sultry girl from Ipanema, still as tall and tan as young and lovely as ever – a bit like the effervescent sound of the bossa nova itself.

Various Artists, Studio Rio Presents The Brazil Connection (Legacy 88843032142, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Also available on vinyl: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

  1. Lovely Day – Bill Withers
  2. Walk On By – Aretha Franklin
  3. Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye
  4. You’ve Changed – Billie Holiday
  5. Family Affair – Sly and the Family Stone
  6. It’s Your Thing – The Isley Brothers
  7. I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Mel Torme
  8. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free – Nina Simone
  9. I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash
  10. Take Five – Dave Brubeck and Carmen McRae
  11. Music to Watch Girls By – Andy Williams
  12. Summertime – Sarah Vaughan

Tracks 1, 3 & 6 arranged by Torcuato Mariano and the Berman Brothers
Track 2 arranged by Roberto Menescal
Tracks 4, 8 & 9 arranged by Torcuato Mariano
Tracks 5, 7, 10 & 12 arranged by Mario Adnet
Track 11 arranged by Marcos Valle

One Response

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  1. I’ve heard a few cuts from this, and they are in my opinion without question pretty tasteless and not even good arrangements. The dead artists in question must be revolving in their graves.


    June 27, 2014 at 07:30

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