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New Music From Latin America


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Universal Vibe From South America

By BEN RATLIFF

Published: December 1, 2003

These records carry new sounds from South America — folk-electronica, rock and jazz. They're the opposite of regional: they reflect the country of their origin to various degrees, but basically this is all universal music.

'Segundo'

Juana Molina

The Argentine television actress Juana Molina changed careers in the mid-90's to music and made one rock album before stumbling on the curious, lonely, misty dimensions of sound that you hear in "Segundo" (Domino), which is more or less a very high-functioning home recording. The album was originally finished in 2000, was released in Argentina first and has been out since the summer in the United States; she has already made a third album, as yet unavailable in America. Ms. Molina will perform on Wednesday night at Joe's Pub, and it will be interesting to see how much she has gone beyond "Segundo."

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Ms. Molina had used a producer — in fact a very good one, Gustavo Santaolalla — for her first album. But she made a decisive hard-left turn for her follow-up: this is an album in which the person multi-tracking her quiet, breathy voice is unquestionably the same one playing the guitar and making the keyboard sounds, and here and there you come across bits that sound hesitant or unfinished.

Parts of "Segundo" — like the instrumental "Medlong" — are sleepy and interior, as diffident as Ms. Molina's pose on the cover, which shows her face hidden behind veils of hair. Others, like the wordless "Mantra del Bicho Feo," grow into dense, confident, swirling dance music. There are strong melodies, too, and harmonies for multiple voices. But the basic compelling idea here is mixing the folk sound of acoustic guitars with electronic keyboards and beats. Not that it has never happened before: that's Beth Orton's idea, too, and she's the better singer. But Ms. Molina's sensibility is more mysterious, less trendy, her voice sleepy and disembodied; some of keyboard tones have a seasick, wavering pitch or rattle like an outboard motor. It's hard to tell where she's coming from exactly: it's an original.

'Amarelo Manga' Soundtrack

Various Artists

Containing the songs and incidental music heard in a recent Brazilian film by Claudio Assis, "Amarelo Manga: Trilha Sonora" (Ybrazil) functions as both moody background music and an index of a fascinating little scene in pop music. That's the scene around Recife, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco. In the mid-90's, the exciting new rock from that region was called Mangue Beat; an eternity in pop years has gone by since then, and the music has changed sufficiently that this soundtrack album offers a progress report on the post-Mangue.

What's changed is that D.J.'s and electronic artists have opened up the Recife scene and made a deep mark on the instrumental bands. The grooves have spread out, become spacier, the low end deeper; the old punk aggression has been replaced by a dub-reggae influence. In short, Mangue Beat has grown up and become some of the best mature pop around.

Some songs on the soundtrack CD are fragmentary — ropy surf-guitar with reggae grooves and melodica, or in one amazing little piece, a trio of didjeridoo, spitfire metal guitar and parade drums. Its main contributors are Lucio Maia and Jorge du Peixe of the band Naçao Zumbi, working in various spinoff groupings. But there are complete songs too, and very nearly great ones. Fred Zero Quatro, leader of the band Mundo Livre S/A, contributes a lovely track, "Ligia," as good as anything he has done with his band; his pleading voice, unspooling irregularly over rhythm, complements a slow, percolating beat, with nylon-string acoustic guitar, Hammond organ and snippets of backward-running samples threading through the background. And the magnificent Naçao Zumbi itself contributes one killer track, "Tempo Amarelo," with its thunderous batucada drums. (Available from www.dustygroove.com.)

'Soundances'

Diego Urcola

A jazz trumpeter from Argentina who has shuttled between his home country and New York for some years, Diego Urcola plays with unusual dexterity and strength. He's an orderly musician, and like so many young jazz players, he's looking far and wide for music that will sum up himself and his generation.

"Soundances" (Sunnyside), made in Buenos Aires with an entirely Argentine band, moves from nimble Nuevo tango with bandoneon ("Blues for Astor"), to deep, discursive ballads that have their roots in early Pat Metheny and the best Brazilian songwriters of the 70's ("La Milonga," written by the band's bassist, Willy González), to Weather Report-style levels of intertwining melody with electric piano and bass, to old Argentine songs, to a beautiful bandoneon-and-trumpet duet on Miles Davis's "Blue in Green."

"Soundances" offers more proof that a training in jazz isn't just the thing-in-itself it used to be; it's also a jumping-off place for exploring music from different areas, from different traditions, from past and present.

NY Times.com • The Arts

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