On Thursday legendary Brazilian arranger Rogerio Duprat died in Sao Paulo at 74. Although he set out to be a composer, with a strong predilection for the avant-garde -- in the early 60s he traveled to Europe to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez -- he ultimately made his name creating wild orchestral settings for singers like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, Gal Costa, and Os Mutantes at the height of the tropicalia movement, making himself a key architect of its sound. He was often called the George Martin of tropicalia, but that analogy doesn’t suggest how progressive and weird his arrangements on those records were. He was part of the musical wing’s defining album, Tropicalia, ou Panis et Circensis, whose cover pictures him holding a chamber pot like it was a teacup.
Even before the emergence of tropicalia, Duprat was espousing radical notions for a serious composer. He belonged to the progressive Musica Nova group, which, according to Christopher Dunn’s book on tropicalia, Brutality Garden, proclaimed the end of the musical vanguard in 1967. “In the words of Rogerio Duprat, the composer would become a ‘sound designer’ who would produce jingles, movie sound tracks, popular-music arrangements, and any other type of music for mass consumption.” In some ways this manifesto presaged the Marxist ideas of British composer Cornelius Cardew in the early 70s, when he launched the Scratch Orchestra, more in the rejection of bourgeois culture than the embrace of commercial forms. Duprat made good on his promise, but he hardly tempered his bold ideas when he worked with pop singers, using dissonance and pastiche to greatly enhance the performances. He went on the write arrangements for artists like Nara Leao, Chico Buarque, Trio Mocoto, Geraldo Azevedo & Alceu Valenca, and Joao Bosco, among others.
His zany 1968 album, A Banda Tropicalista do Duprat, a dizzying patchwork of tunes all fed in the arranger’s frothy style, was reissued last year. He essays several tropicalia gems on the record, as well some English-language rock hits of the day (“Lady Madonna,” “Judy in Disguise,” and “Flying”) and some bossa nova standards. It’s a beguiling curiosity more than a major work, but it certainly offers a window into his peculiar aesthetic during that time. For most of the last few decades Duprat retreated from public view, living on a rural farm, afflicted by bladder cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.