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Putumayo Presents Acoustic Brazil and Afro-Latin Party

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After two recent albums focusing on the New Orleans jazz tradition, including one devoted to the music of young trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, Putumayo has turned its attention to other corners of the globe. The world music label's latest two compilations target mellow Brazilian sounds and Afro-Latin dance music respectively, and the contrast is quite dramatic. One offers songs for quiet times by the fire, the other literally lights a blaze under your feet.

Both of these records, like the New Orleans compilations, include extensive liner notes in English, Spanish, and French. (Not Portuguese, however.) Whether you treat them as starting points for further exploration or ends in themselves, they have much to offer and age with grace.

Various Artists
Putumayo Presents Acoustic Brazil
Putumayo World Music
2005

Brazil has one of the most active and dynamic popular music scenes on the planet, which is reason enough for Putumayo to revisit the country for a fourth time. This update presents unplugged performances by megastars like Caetano Veloso as well as other artists with a lower global profile. It's a warm, liquid, romantic tour of samba, bossa nova, and beyond that rewards repeated spins.

Acoustic Brazil does its subject justice, to the extent twelve tracks can adequately represent the music of a couple hundred million people. The focus is on song, which has a few implications: the pieces are short, only one longer than four minutes; they emphasize melody and lyrical content in intertwined combination; and they showcase vocal talent as a centerpiece for instrumental presentation. Provided you're on board with that scenario, there's a lot here to like.

A sense of mellow contemplation, bittersweet love, and restrained celebration characterize most of this material, but it's not drippy, weak, or bland in any sense. Therein lies the magic. Listen to samba veteran Paulinho da Viola sing the delicately simmering "A Voz do Povo"—the lush instrumental accompaniment buoys up a lilting melody that masks a somber message of weakness and rebirth:

I am the flower that the wind tossed to the ground
But a bud still remains
So another flower can grow


Minutes later, Ana de Hollanda's feathery voice wafts in and around clarinet counterpoint, bathing her "Samba Triste" ("Sad Samba") in ironic joy. Her brother, Chico Buarque, appears down the road in a swirl of romance and quiet passion. If all this heavy stuff weighs you down, check out Monica Salmaso's minimal, roots-oriented "Moro Na Roça" and Rita Ribeiro's affirmative "Tem Quem Queira." There's a little of everything here. At a brief 40 minutes, the running time is the only real drawback.

Various Artists
Putumayo Presents Afro-Latin Party
Putumayo World Music
2005

As anyone with half a clue is well aware, there's but one imperative at a so-called Afro-Latin Party, which is to dance the night away. The title of this perky compilation may leave out the obvious, but there's no way you could possibly miss its implications once you hit play. So clear the floor and get busy.

Africando gets the fiesta going with a little bit of Cuba by way of West Africa, a combination with fresh twist and bounce. The featured vocalist on the opening track is Burkina Faso's Amadou Balake, who shares the stage quite affably with the other musicians in a dynamic give-and-take. The group returns twice later with featured Senegalese vocalists Medoune Diallo (brighter and more liquid in his flow) and Nicolas Menheim (mellow and classic-sounding), respectively. Like Senegal's Orchestra Baobab—from which Medoune Diallo's voice should be familiar—Africando cooks without boiling over, relying on interlocking rhythms and hooks to keep things steamy.

And that's something that carries over to the rest of the collection. José Mangual Jr.'s "Ritmo con Aché" has a catchy refrain and a bevy of bright salsa horns, but it doesn't push things into the trap of excess. That should come as no surprise to those already attuned to Putumayo's "Guaranteed to make you feel good!" motto. Who would have thought that Portland, Oregon would be a retro-mambo hotbed? Pepe and the Bottle Blondes make that case with "Cuéntame Que Te Pasó" ("Tell Me What Happened to You"), an irresistibly catchy cha cha chá.

More surprises await, including the trans-Caribbean cross-pollination of Ska Cubano, the gentle shuffle of Croatian salsa outfit Cubismo (dance with your feet, please!), and the moving salsafied Martinique sounds of Ronald Rubinel's Salsa Kolor. All that trans-global motion doesn't interrupt the flow of the music one bit as these jams beg you to swivel your hips and step on out.

Visit Putumayo on the web for sound samples and more.


Track and artist listings

Acoustic Brazil

Tracks: Aquele Frevo Axé; A Voz do Povo; Samba Triste; Ciranda; Meu Mundo é Hoje (Eu Sou Assim); Quando Eu For Eu Vou Sem Pena; Tem Quem Queira; Cajuina; Moro Na Roça; Mensagem de Amor; Lábios de Cetim; Noite Severina.

Artists: Gal Costa; Paulinho da Viola; Ana de Hollanda; Márcio Faraco; Teresa Cristina; Chico Buarque; Rita Ribeiro; Caetano Veloso; Monica Salmaso; Lucas Santtana; Glaucia Nasser; Lula Queiroga.

Afro-Latin Party

Tracks: Betece; Ritmo Con Aché; Cuéntame Que Te Paso; Babalu; Mandali; Morenita; Demal; Cógele el Gusto; La Huelga Me Paró; Samba Luku Samba.

Artists: Africando featuring Amadou Balake; Jose Mangual Jr.; Pepe & The Bottle Blondes; Ska Cubano; Africando featuring Medoune Diallo; Cubismo; Africando featuring Nicholas Menheim; Chico Álvarez; Ronald Rubinel's Salsa Kolor; Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca.


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