Friday, December 30, 2005

Music: Gal Costa

Many weeks back a reader of this blog asked if I would be willing to do a write-up on favorite albums, personally meaningful ones. (Who was this reader? Well, if the name 'St-Germain' means anything to you, you're one of the lucky ones who know [of] the person who was quite probably the keenest cinephile of my generation. He's pulled a Terrence Malick in the world of film criticism, though!) I've been sitting on this request for some time now, thinking of which albums I would choose, and what I'd write about them. I can, and will, talk about the music's personal meaning to me, but I'd like to take a stab at the music itself, too. The problem is, it's very difficult to do this, as I am not the most musically inclined person in the world ... so if you choose to read this entry, and others like it, please be patient with me!

Gal Costa's Índia (Philips, 1973) is the first album of Brazilian music that I have "discovered" of my own accord. I sought it out online, downloaded the album, loved it, and got rid of that burned CD to buy the actual thing. I'd had recommendations before--globetrotting cinephile of Brazilian extraction Gabe Klinger once generously handed off to me a mix CD of Tropicália classics, a co-worker recommended to me Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges' album Clube da Esquina, and hey, I've also seen Carlos Diegues' famous, mildly entertaining and highly musical films (including, twice, Quilombo with its indispensible music by the man who is today the coolest Minister of Culture ever). You get the picture. But while this exposure is probably respectable for the average American, it still leaves me quite clueless with respect to the formal, historical, and sociopolitical currents that shaped and were shaped by Brazilian popular music of the 1960s and 1970s. So the following thoughts are going to come necessarily from the mouth of someone who not only understands only about 5-10% of what Costa is singing (my reading comprehension of Portuguese is a little higher so at least I could track down lyrics if I tried...) but wouldn't even know how to place it into a larger context if I could understand the words.

My favorite track is "Milho Verde" and it exemplifies a lot of what I love about this album--a certain musical idea (a phrase, a tone of voice) is pulled and stretched in a folk/popular composition that veers in a lot of directions, quite unlike a 'verse-verse-chorus' of much popular Euro-North American music at the time. I wish more catchy pop songs would do precisely this: float around for three minutes, introduce a new rhythm or some altered facet of tone or timbre late into the song, and maybe repeat this process once or twice more. The song becomes more like a journey or a meditation--an experience--than a compact message. The percussive syncopation (at least I think this qualifies as syncopation--recall I don't know what I'm talking about!) that underscores Costa's ecstatic, sweet-voiced delivery makes for something stimulating to both the hips and the head. As with many of the tracks (like "Relance") Costa picks out a quick musical phrase and voices it repeatedly, letting the processes of repetition and gradual/drastic changes provide the drama of the piece.

So what I essentially love about this album is the beauty of Costa's voice used in conjunction, and sometimes counterpoint, with the catchy but still sometimes 'prickly' beats and progressions over which she sings. I would love to hear what else I'm missing, what I'm making too big a deal out of (for I'm certain that I'm picking up on things and praising them in the same way a film rookie would praise an old noir for being "dark"!). And more Brazilian music recommendations are always welcome ...


girish said...

Zach, I only have a slapdash Gal Costa compilation CD, but I like it a lot.
"I wish more catchy pop songs would do precisely this: float around for three minutes."
A lot of Indian raga-based music does exactly this. Instead of having designated structural units (verse/chorus/bridge), a tune will put in place a raga (a certain scale or pool of notes) and melodies will slowly surface, ebb away, be reconfigured using that constant scale, and then reappear in mutated form, endlessly...the tunes can be quite long, much longer than three minutes.
Re: Brazilian music, I'm a rabid Jobim fan; I like the Brazilian indigenous music/cool jazz fusion of the late fifties that resulted in the bossa nova. Getz/Gilberto is a touchstone record for me personally.

Anonymous said...

Zach, Costa's self-titled debut is one you must listen to if you haven't already.

The lyrics are intriguing, of course, as they are in Caetano, in Gil, in Os Mutantes... Speaking Portuguese, however, makes those Belle & Sebastian covers of Brazilian songs painful to listen to. ;)

Also, something you neglected to mention (though I'm glad you have it on display) is the amazing album cover for Índia, truly one of best covers ever.

Another essential record with a great album cover is Cartola's Verde Que Te Quero Rosa:

A recent album I've been enjoying is Falando de Amor (Speaking of Love) by the Caymmi and Jobim families performing a wide repertoire of Antonio Carlos Jobim classics.

And my last recommendation for now, one which I think you'd like, is Stan Getz performing with João Gilberto (feat. Jobim). An absolute classic.


ZC said...

Thanks for the tips, Girish and Gabe. I will definitely highlight some jazz records here in the future, by the way. Happy New Year!

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