A Tropical Party!
After Tom Jobim, the music of Jorge Ben Jor may be the most recognized outside of Brazil. Forty years after its first recording, his classic “Mas, Que Nada” continues to be heard throughout the world, from advertising themes and movie soundtracks to spins by hip club DJs. Recorded worldwide by over 100 different artists, “Mas, Que Nada” is the only song completely in Portuguese to be taken to the top of the American charts (by Sergio Mendes in the sixties).
In the seventies, Ben Jor (then known only as Jorge Ben) found considerable success in Europe, and if you believe the legend, the refrain from his “Taj Mahal” was plagiarized by Rod Stewart for the international hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” In Brazil, artists of every style have recorded his songs, as funk, Bossa Nova, samba, sertaneja, forró, heavy metal and rap, and his songs are standards on the mobile sound systems of Carnaval, the “Trio Elétricos.”
His four-decade career is well represented on the newest DVD from the MTV Acústico series. Recorded in Rio in 2002, “Acústico – Jorge Ben Jor,” is divided into two full-length concert performances. The first is a reunion of his classic seventies band Admiral Jorge V, and the second with the current version of his ongoing Banda do Zé Pretinho. Each group is augmented with extra percussionists, a five-piece horn section, a twenty-member string section and three male vocalists.
The Jorge V band kicks off the show with the dramatic minor key “Jorge de Capadócia,” a tale of a soldier strengthened by the protection of St. George. This rather heavy opening gives way to a string of Ben Jor’s light-hearted up-tempo classics, in his funky “samba mixed with maracatu” style. A choice of four language subtitles allows a closer look at his lyrics, amusing and laced with references to mythical beasts, Afro-Brazilian culture and whimsical characters. There is a wicked woman portrayed as a dragon in “Roberto, Corta Essa,” an African soccer legend in “Umbabarauma,” a woman shuffling the samba until her sandals wear out (“Balança Pema”), a banana seller in love with his simple life (“O Vendedor de Bananas”) and the colorful circus folk of “O Circo Chegou.”
The show has a wonderfully relaxed and spontaneous feel. Throughout, Ben Jor controls the rhythm with his acoustic twelve-string guitar, the strings add a subtle Philly soul vibe, and the catchy refrains are chanted and echoed by the nattily attired vocal trio. When in full swing, the horns punch like Earth, Wind and Fire, but they also add subtle shadings on woodwinds.
The Banda do Zé Pretinho segment starts off with a propulsive version of “Mas, Que Nada,” followed by medleys of favorites including “Chove, Chuva” and “Que Maravilha.” Although this band has a tougher and more aggressive style, the calmer numbers feature more elaborate and colorful orchestrations, with flutes and reeds joining the strings. The group comes on like a freight train for the infectious two-beat tunes “País Tropical” and “Spyro Gyro,” and kicks the funk hard on the tribute to Tim Maia, “W/Brasil (Chama o Síndico).” “Taj Mahal” closes out the set with musician features and an audience sing-along, and an obviously pleased Jorge Ben Jor leaves the studio to a standing ovation.
The concert staging has a gorgeous look, each musical element on multi-leveled, pastel-colored circles, with a color shifting background evoking the curves of the famous beach sidewalks in Rio. Mostly brightly lit, with the audience in close, it takes on the feel of a tropical party.
The DVD has excellent audio and a batch of extras, including a “making of” short, multi-angle shots which focus on Ben Jor’s guitar playing, discography and biography, and optional guitar chord subtitles.
Jorge Ben Jor
Universal 04400176649 (2002)
Admiral Jorge V
- Jorge de Capadócia
- Roberto, Corta Essa / Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)
- Balança, Pema
- O Vendedor de Bananas (citaçao: Cosa Nostra)
- O Circo Chegou
- Ive Brussel
- O Namorada da Viúva
- Minha Teimosia, Uma Arma Pra te Conquistar
- Take it Easy, My Brother Charles
Banda do Zé Pretinho
- Mas, Que Nada
- Por Causa de Você, Menina / Chove Chuva
- Que Maravilha
- Menina Mulher de Pele Preta / O Telefone Tocou Novamente
- Que Pena (Ela Já Não Gosta Mais de Mim)
- País Tropical
- W/Brasil (Chama o Síndico)
- Os Alquimistas Estão Chegando os Alquimistas
- Filho Maravilha
- Taj Mahal