An obscure Brazilian masterpiece gets another chance

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Few things excite a devoted music fan more than new discoveries, especially a discovery that's new to everyone else too. That goes a long way toward explaining the swollen reissue market, as well as the obsession with old private-press albums over the past decade or so—because contemporary music is relatively easy to find, it can't satisfy the demand for obscurity.

When the 1970 album Obnoxius by Brazilian singer, songwriter, and guitarist José Mauro was reissued in 1995 by British label Far Out—then a key player in the burgeoning rare-groove scene, with a decidedly Brazilian emphasis—it certainly qualified as "obscure." It was never released during its era, but instead shelved after the mysterious death of its creator. Mauro made it for the great but short-lived Quartin label, started by Roberto Quartin after he sold the rights to his Forma imprint to Polygram in 1969. Forma had overseen the creative growth of bossa nova in the 60s, and the dazzling art-pop aesthetic it pushed toward on albums by the likes of Quarteto em Cy, Ivan Lins, and Luiz Carlos Vinhas still sounds remarkable five decades later.

Far Out recently announced a new initiative to reissue the small but potent Quartin catalog, and it's kicked off the endeavor with a rerelease of Obnoxius, which sounds better than ever. Recently a music-industry colleague of mine from Rio de Janeiro was in town for the World Music Festival, and I played it for him while we drove to lunch; though my friend has worked regularly with the drummer on Obnoxius, the legendary Wilson das Neves, he'd never heard of the record. Despite its 1995 British reissue, Obnoxius remains a rarity. With luck that will soon change, because it ranks among the greatest albums of its era—it's a bona fide masterpiece, a gorgeously lyrical collection of songs that anticipated Milton Nascimento's 1972 classic Club da Esquina.

Lindolpho Gaya's arrangements are on par with the more celebrated work of his compatriot Rogerio Duprat, of tropicalia fame, and they're performed by a top-notch band that included saxophonist Paulo Moura, flutist Altamiro Carrilho, and guitarist Geraldo Vespar. The music was made as the tropicalia movement was ending, and Mauro's sophistication helped herald the ascent of MPB (musica popular Brasileira, a catch-all term that arose when Brazilian musicians transformed indigenous styles with a cosmopolitan ambition). His singing was far removed from rock and from samba and bossa nova; it was something new, and the rich arrangements, sometimes boldly dissonant and always dramatic, still sound otherworldly decades later. Today's 12 O'Clock Track is the title song, a soaring midtempo stunner whose snaking melody weaves through a pulsing groove, stabbing horns, percolating percussion, wordless female backing vocals, and lush strings. The tune lodges itself deeper in your brain with every spin; this is a record that not only improves with familiarity but also practically demands full surrender.

Today's playlist:

Russ Lossing, Personal Tonal (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Anne-Sophie Mutter/Bruno Giuranna/Mstislav Rostropovich, Beethoven: The String Trios (Deutsche Grammophon)
Don Cherry, Live at the Café Montmartre 1966, Vol. Two (ESP-Disk)
Doug Tuttle, It Calls on Me (Trouble in Mind)
Peteris Vasks, Vox Amoris: Works for Violin and String Orchestra (Wergo)

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