Reviewed on this page:
Ritual Beating System - Timbalada - Cada Cabeça É Um Mundo - Mineral -
Alfagamabetizado - Omelete Man -
Bahia Do Mundo: Mito e Verdade - Motumba Bless -
Carlinhos Brown Es Carlito Marrón -
Candyall Beat - A Gente Ainda Não Sonhou
Phenomenally successful Brazilian songwriter Carlinhos Brown was born Antonio Carlos Santos Freita in Salvador, Bahia in the mid-60s. At 13 changed his name to reflect his adoration of
James Brown. Initially working as a percussionist, his composing abilities came to light after he began writing commercial jingles for a radio station; hits for a variety
of Brazilian stars followed, mostly using heavy Afro-Brazilian drumming but also some lighter pop. He soon set up Timbalada, a bloco-afro group (a large ensemble consisting of guitar, keyboards
and a hundred or more percussionists) along the lines of Olodum. Hits kept piling up - he charted at least thirty compositions during the decade - and in 1997 he finally released a solo project
that conclusively demonstrated the breadth of his talents, including his seldom-heard singing voice. Brown can make absolutely anything into a percussion instrument, and his voracious
appetite for new sounds results in wide-ranging, pan-rhythmic, invigorating music.
Brown has contributed percussion, arrangements or compositions to a huge percentage of the Brazilian records I own, regardless of genre.
This is startling because I haven't intentionally sought out records he was involved with. Here goes:
- Margareth Menezes, "Praga Do Céu" (co-wrote)
- Daniela Mercury, Daniela Mercury (wrote one track), O Canto Da Cidade (wrote
one track), Musica Da Rua (wrote and arranged one track), Feijão Com Arroz (wrote two tracks, arranged one), Electrodoméstico (wrote two tracks, appears on one)
- Marisa Monte, Rose And Charcoal (wrote three tracks, percussion on five), A Great Noise
(wrote, co-produced, percussion and other instruments on three tracks; wrote one; arranged one), Memories, Chronicles, And Declarations Of Love
(wrote, percussion on several tracks)
- Sepultura, Roots (percussion, co-wrote one song)
- Caetano Veloso, Caetano (percussion), Estrangeiro (percussion on four tracks, wrote one),
Tropicália 2 (percussion on four tracks), Livro (percussion and arrangement on one track)
Ritual Beating System (Bahia Beat: 1992)
Producer Bill Laswell never knows when to leave well enough alone: confronted with an excess
of talent, he tried to cram everything onto one album, and came up with a confused mess. Brown's the main writer
and performer, and his "Capitão Do Asfalto" is a characteristically offbeat mix of angry spoken vocals and heavy percussion with atmospheric acoustic guitar and flute.
But he's fighting for album space with Laswell cronies like Henry Threadgill and Tony "Funky Drummer"
Walls (who contributed the lame bash-o-rama "Follow Me"). I'll grant, though, that Brown's percussion duet with teenage NYC street musician Larry Wright (on plastic buckets) is a blast ("Uma Viagem Del Baldes De Larry Wright").
Bernie Worrell adds organ (prominent on the gentle, percussion-free opener "Retrato Calado").
The record also includes two tracks written and performed by Herbie Hancock, Wayne
Shorter and Brazilian percussion ensemble Olodum ("The Seven Powers," "Gwagwa O De") - in both cases, Olodum lays down its usual polyrhythmic beat while the jazz players noodle
(Hancock more successfully). Olodum's own self-titled feature is even duller - no melody instruments or vocals, just slight variations on a basic pulse.
Timbalada (Timbalada: 1993)
Brown's bloco-afro project, which basically means "a hundred drummers all playing the same samba rhythm, with chanting and
a little melody on top." The booming chorus of timbales sounds great at first, but gets old fast, even though Brown does
throw in an occasional change of pace (the slow, tender "Beija-Flor"), and his propensity for screwing with sounds
produces interesting berimbau (which sounds like a baritone Jew's harp) noises on "Som Dos Tribais."
But the one terrific track on the album isn't by Brown, it's Nem Cardoso's "Toque De Timbaleiro" - a funky, captivating
mix of unpredictable meter shifts and minimalist guitar hooks,
with a commanding lead vocal from Patricia Gomes - unfortunately, Gomes is only featured on one other track ("Filha Da Mãe").
The other outstanding cut is "Emílio," a lovely duet between Brown and Jorge Ben Jor (uncredited composer of "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," but don't hold that against him).
Produced by Brown and Wesley Rangel.
Cada Cabeça É Um Mundo (Timbalada: 1995)
A much more mainstream project: the percussion's not nearly as dense (though the notes still list 101 group members)
and pianos, guitars and horns in the foreground ("Toneladas De Desejo," so laid-back it's halfway to bossa nova). But the
compositions are depressingly ordinary, with too many boring block chords and hardly any arresting snatches of melody.
The closing "Convênio Com Cristo" is classic Brown weirdness, though: berimbau mixed way up front,
an electric piano playing what sounds like the synth interlude from "Baba O'Riley," and a
single voice chanting some kind of prayer.
Again, most vocals are chanted by a large chorus; Gomes again sings lead on two tracks: the pedestrian and
forgettable "Camafeu," and the rousing, horn-backed "Giro O Mundo."
Caetano Veloso adds spoken vocals to Brown's safe sex manual "Camisinha."
Produced by Brown and Rangel.
Andei Road (Timbalada: 1995)
Mineral (Timbalada: 1996)
Produced and arranged by Brown again, but he only wrote five of the fourteen tracks (including the fragment "Agua Mineral"). Similar to Timbalada's debut, it's a ton of percussion driving minimal compositions ("Trilha Sonora") with group chanted vocals ("Misericórdia Pudim") and horns. But this time there's very little to listen for in the arrangements - apart from the weird keyboard in "Hagarrê" - so it's the dullest outing from the band I've heard. "Maré Mansa" is one of the better tunes, but it's a run of the mill refrain. The biggest surprise isn't a pleasant one: the album ends with the brass instrumental "Hino Do Binfa," which sounds like a John Philip Sousa march.
Finally, a solo project. It's sprawling, with sixteen tracks covering everything from lilting love songs ("Argila") to kinetic samba ("Pandeiro-Deiro") to
hard funk ("A Namorada") and even salsa ("Seo Zé), plus lots of genre hybrids ("Frases Ventias," "Cumplicidade de Armário"). But he brings an edge to everything
that keeps it from turning into World Beat mush, and almost every single track is memorable ("Mares de Ti" is damn near unforgettable).
Lyrics were never Brown's most disciplined area, and here he gets really weird, with Portuguese, English, nonsense words strung together in no
discernable pattern. But in addition to playing all kinds of percussion, guitars and everything else he could get his hands on, Brown has a
supple, unassuming voice, and it's easy to just let the syllables float by without worrying too much about them.
Though it's not revolutionary or truly experimental, it's a tour de force of stylistic and emotional range, with equal melodic and rhythmic power.
Mãe Da Samba (Timbalada: 1997)
Vamos Dar a Volta No Guetho: Ao Vivo (Timbalada: 1998)
Omelete Man (1999)
Again a mix of styles, from rough-edged dance (title track, with distorted electric guitar by Davi Moraes) to slushy string-heavy ballads ("Hawaii E You," which sounds like the 101 Strings).
But most tunes feature a full band of guitar, bass, horns and percussion, often spinning out markedly similar samba grooves ("Amantes Cinzas"), and completely lacking the unpredictable
spark of Alfagamabetizado. So don't start here, but if you're already a fan you'll enjoy the stripped-down funk of "Busy Man" and the afro-bloc fire of "Cachorro Louco" and the squeaky
strings of "Cold Heart."
Produced by Monte; everything's written and arranged by Brown, occasionally with an accomplice but generally solo.
A surprising number of 70s pop figures turn up: Eumir Deodato arranges "Soul By Soul";
Nile Rodgers adds a guitar solo to "Tribal United Dance"; Worrell plays clavinet on "Vitamina Ser."
...Pense Minha Bor... (Timbalada: 1999)
Bahia Do Mundo: Mito e Verdade (2001)
Closer to Alfagamabetizado than Omelete Man: no big-name guests and more breadth, with reggae ("Mess In The Freeway") and ballads ("Senhora") to complement the standard samba ("Cearabe"), in a freewheeling blend of languages ("Shalom"). He combines unlike instruments without ever sounding self-conscious about it, as when his gently worn voice competes with swirling strings and berimbau on "Vilões Satisfeitos."
As before, this all works like magic when he's got stunning melodies, and he usually does: "Crendice," which blends soft-rock piano with hard-hitting horns; the thumping "Horário De Verão";
the transcendent "Vai Rolar."
The core band is Augusto Albuquerque (bass), andre t. (keys) and Gerson Silva (guitars), plus a variety of percusssion and horn players.
Timbalisimo (Timbalada: 2001)
In 2002, Brown collaborated with Arnaldo Antunes and Monte on Tribalistas.
Motumba Bless (Timbalada: 2002)
This time, Brown wrote or co-wrote nearly all the songs, but shared producing and arranging duties with Alê Siqueira. There's still plenty of percussion, but it's not the sole focus, and the tunes are more complex and wide-ranging: the lilting "Bossa Nova Do Sertão"; the gentle, tuneful "Ralé."
In other words, it sounds much like a Brown solo album except that he's not singing:
lead vocals are split among Ninha Brito ("Tugu Du Diu"), Denny ("Açucar Please") and Amanda Santiago (the lovely, high-energy "Motumbá"), and Faromi Rose speaks the brief invocation "Ongoroci Pros Orixás."
However, it's not at the level of his better solo albums, as there are a number of tracks which are functional but routine ("Canção De Paquerar"; the love song "Justifique Baby").
Carlinhos Brown Es Carlito Marrón (2004)
I don't know who this Marrón character is supposed to be, but I suspect he's a 70s salsero: several of the cuts sound like they could have been released on Fania circa 1972 ("Carlito Marrón"; "Clima Quente"). There's even a fair amount of Spanish in the lyrics ("Cumbiamoura"), though he's still polyglottal ("I Wanna Lú").
As you'd expect, though, the peripatetic Brown doesn't stick to the theme, jumping around with ballads, one techno track pointing the way to Candyall Beat ("My Honey"), and some of his patented "smooth melody grafted to gritty percussion" ("Aganju"; the extraordinary "Baby Groove"). Not as packed with memorable moments as most of his solo albums, but there's plenty to like ("Ala A A," spotlighting Brown's underused falsetto).
Produced with Siqueira again; Rosario Flores adds vocals to "Juras De Samba" (which sounds like a speed-bachata) and Bebel Gilberto duets on "Ifá De Copacabana."
Serviço De Animação Popular (Timbalada: 2004)
I'm not sure what happened here, but most of the tracks are repeated from the previous release:
"Açucar Please," "Motumbá," "Ralé," etc.
The four new cuts, mostly produced and sung by Brown, vary in approach and quality:
the exuberant salsa "Na Ilha Grande," which sounds like it should have been a hit for Celia Cruz, is terrific; the familiar-sounding loping groove "Ashansu" (featuring Mateus), the love song "Tim Eu Quero Ser Seu Bem" and the bloco-afro chant "Conceição" are also-rans.
Candyall Beat (Carlinhos Brown & DJ Dero: 2005)
A collaboration with Dero and Nicolás Guerrieri putting down loops, Boghan Costa and Léo Bit Bit adding voices and percussion, and Brown playing almost everything else. But the sound isn't particularly electronic, instead it's relatively heavy on acoustic guitar ("Bocarriba") rather like Carlito Marrón without the salsa influence. And again, Brown pulls a bunch of deceptively simple melodies from his bag of tracks, both upbeat chants ("Sambadream") and introspective mood pieces ("O Gado E A Jangada").
There's more filler than you'd want ("Nabika"; "Cabuleria"), but it's a decent piece of work.
I wish I didn't have to mention this, but it's a 2-CD set, with the second disc containing excruciating dance remixes of nearly every song from the first disc. The mixes are endless and dull, with an overbearing emphasis on the basic pulse, so the tunes which were pleasant the first time around lose their luster ("Mariacaipirinha") and the stuff that was so-so becomes unbearable ("Favelatecno").
Use Disc 2 as a coaster while you're listening to Disc 1.
Produced by Brown, Dero and Guerrieri.
Presents Candombless (2006)
A Gente Ainda Não Sonhou (2007)
Brown has so many talents, it seems he sometimes loses track of them: on this album, his restless rhythmic invention ("O Aroma Da Vida"), fluid verbalism, acoustic balladeering, funky keyboards and slinky melodic hooks are all in evidence, but they almost never cohere on any given track. "Goodbye Hello" is one of several tracks that mix heavy percussion with a laid-back tune, and the effect is ultimately wishy-washy: you wish he'd just commit to a balllad or a dance track.
There's one miraculous song, the romantic "Loved You Right Away" (written with BeBe Winans); otherwise, the record is less than the sum of its parts. It's more like the square root of its parts.
A few songs were written with his co-Tribalistas, Antunes and Monte ("Página Futuro"), but they're not exceptional otherwise; there are a variety of backing musicians though as usual Brown plays most of the instruments himself.
After a few years' break, Brown released two new albums simultaneously. Judging from 30 second samples (all I've found of this one so far), this is more slow and acoustic, while Adobró is more electronic and dance-oriented.
Two decades into his career by now, Brown dabbles a bit - AutoTune on "Amor Tomorrow"; Near Eastern tonality in "Terra Viva"; emo choked rhythm guitar on "Tantinho" - but in general uses his usual mix of guitars, keyboards and loads of percussion to present pop melodies ("Yarah'a").
Once again he stir-fries Portuguese, Spanish and English with cheerful disregard ("Agora I Love You," with Beyoncé-sounding backing vocals), though it seems pointed that the anti-global warming "Earth Mother Water" is in English.
At his best he remains jawdropping tunesmith, as the blissful slice of liveliness "Desde" demonstrates; "Odô Amin" is the best of several unpretentious, soothing grooves.
Perhaps it's fair to ding Brown for continuing to work within the same parameters, but if you do, at least acknowledge he's the master of what he does.