Essence of Tropicália

Hardliner General Costa e Silva put an end to all this fun with the Fifth Institutional Act of December 13, 1968, which sent Gil and Veloso to jail. After their release, they were allowed to work under house arrest in early 1969 for approximately four months, each recording an album's worth of songs with acoustic guitar and voice and sending the tapes off to Duprat, who fleshed them out (to put it mildly). Soon both hit the racks with yet another self-titled album. For a guy under the government's thumb, Gil sounds unusually perky. Drummer Wilson Das Neves does an elastic take on Clyde Stubblefield while Lanny Gordin, a major presence on these albums, gets a lot of mileage out of one electric guitar. Hipsters will gravitate toward his free jazz codas, stereo field abuse, and other "nonmusical" signals, but the noisy bits aren't what made these albums contemporary then and they're not what make them current now. Without the band kicking and Duprat channeling as much pop as Stockhausen, they wouldn't have equaled the English pop the Tropicálistas loved.

In 1972, after two years' exile in London, Gil returned to Brazil and recorded Expresso 2222, a significant break point that coincides with Gil's participation in the Afro-Brazilian consciousness movement, which continued through the '70s. Gone are the soigné turns of bossa and major-to-minor pop moves; in their place is a supple Afro-Brazilian funk that Gil would favor for the next 20 years. "O Canto da Ema" is Gil bouillon, a fast-moving, long melody cycling over a Fela ostinato guitar while drummer Tutty Moreno, as major a discovery as Gordin, stutters perfectly. The album closes with two solo voice-and-guitar songs, "O Sonho Acabou" and "Oriente." Gil's more-is-more playing and singing style provides enough rhythm and sound to cover the lack of bass and drums. If anyone can show up with a guitar and a microphone and make a big sound, it's Gil.

Which is what he does on O Viramundo, a live album recorded mostly in 1972. Expresso 2222 done live, it's a keeper from the opening duet with Veloso, "Cada Macaco no Seu Galho," to the juicy 16-minute band workout "Brand New Dream." The band is on a par with James Brown's best, especially on the multilayered "O Bom Jogador." Moreno is a treat no matter how many times he channels Lenny White, and Gordin spits fire. Cidade do Salvador, a previously unreleased 1974 double album, is a calmer, more fusion-prone elaboration on Expresso 2222. The rhythms are still the people's; Fela is very much present on the delicious "Umeboshi," and the drums get pleasantly papery on "Essa É Pra Tocar no Rádio." The lead track, "Meio de Campo," and "Eu Só Quero um Xodô" made a perfect 45 when they were released together in 1974.


Gilberto Gil
Ensaio Geral
Polygram Brasil

Even Gil's failures can set you free: a little great artist shtick, a jam gone over the cliff, too much hope for his fellow citizen. Couldn't the last album you bought use a little of that kind of reach? In the midst of all the humming, smiling Powerbooks, Gil's generous, forceful abraço spills over the edges, embarrasses and suffocates you a bit. Hug it back and live large for once.

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