Straight-to-the-disc: Seu Jorge & Rogê

Marco Giannotti (Journal of Reviews)
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By HENRY BURNETT*

Comment on the duo's most recent album

This is how, in a somewhat mysterious way, the record company night dreamer (https://www.nightdreamer.co.uk/) presents itself, “direct-to-disc”. A visit to the website explains what it is all about. Musicians are invited to register a live album, recorded directly on a virgin vinyl LP with its maximum time limit of 40 minutes. A kind of phonographic “Back to the future”, because the process resembles records from 100 years ago in two complementary directions: artistic and technical.

Technically we're talking about state-of-the-art equipment, cables, microphones, tables, headphones, etc., but that's, let's say, on the surface. In the presentation text, the designation is simple, for those who understand the line: “from the Neumann microphone to the Neumann press” – the mythical German microphone factory. The difference is what you can't see. Recorded at Studio Artone, The Netherlands (https://www.artone-studio.com/), the label uses restored vintage equipment, such as “one of the last four RCA 76D mixing consoles,” and Westrex Capitol amplifiers, “designed specifically for Capitol studios to record artists such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys”; no more need to be said. This is spectacular sound aficionado madness.

Artistically, and more importantly, the project ends up producing a throwback to the golden age of recording, to say the least. Just remember that night dreamer is a tribute to Wayne Shorter's 1964 album of the same name, the first he recorded as a leader for the mythical Blue Note.

You soon see that the idea is a leap to the pre-transistor era, prior to the digital world, this world of flat music, highly compressed and with increasingly loud output volume. Try putting it to play João Gilberto voice and guitar and compare with any Anitta track. Don't forget to disable the "volume control" of your service streaming favourite, which all levels up regardless of who produced it.

Now imagine being one of the guests to record under these conditions. The Brazilians Seu Jorge and Rogê went. Partners for over 25 years, the album was recorded in two days and combines technical primacy with a unique artistic component, especially for those who follow their solo work. Seun Kuti, Etuk Ubong, Gary Bartz & Maisha and many others have already been announced.

The result is, in my humble opinion, the best album of their careers, Night Dreamer Direct-to-disc Seu Jorge & Rogê. Forget (almost everything) that they recorded so far. It will be difficult to remember “Burguesinha” listening to “A Força”, for example, one of the highlights of the album, written in partnership with Rogê. Maybe the project doesn't touch on barbeques and VIP parties, and the reason seems clear. At this point, with their national and international careers consolidated, rigor does not need to be hidden. It is a record of friendship, exile, roots and displacements, but it is also an album of aesthetic value, a album in the ancient and now classic sense of the term. On the other hand, they recorded an old-fashioned album that will go through time, as is often the case with classics.

If an artist has the chance to register a set of songs within a scheme that promises, as the website reads, “the lightness of liberation vs. the weight of expectation”, or the “reliance on raw musicianship vs. the vulnerability of exposure”, the conclusion is given in advance, “it is in these alchemical moments of contrast that the essence of expression can emerge.”

The voice and ancestry gathered in Seu Jorge's performances prevail in most of the album. I only remember a moment where the singer seemed shy when singing, it was on a special on Canal Brasil, where he duetted with Milton Nascimento, but the example is cowardice. His voice is a rare element, especially when he interprets serious songs, such as “Saravá” and the aforementioned “A Força”.

Throughout his career, Rogê, who is more of a guitarist than Seu Jorge, alternates moments more aligned with the guitar of Baden Powell with others closer to the singer Bebeto. But samba-rock and light lyrics predominate. Seu Jorge has already recorded excellent albums, such as Seu Jorge and Almaz (2011) or The life aquatic – Studio Sessions featuring Seu Jorge (2005), but the maturation of these albums until the most recent one is clear. If the singer could remain at this level, it would be difficult to predict how far he can go.

It's a balanced disc, like the previous ones, but authorial, which makes all the difference and produces the jump. Perhaps it is the first disc of maturity of both. Although guitars predominate, the album also features special guest appearances by Chavebeats (bass and Fender Rhodes), Pretinho da Serrinha (ukulele and percussion) and Peu Meurray (percussion). An album of friends, about friendship.

With four of the seven songs written the day before recording, the unity of the material is surprising. According to Seu Jorge, this happened because of the 25-year relationship between him and Rogê.

Although without having had the opportunity to hear the vinyl, it is not difficult to perceive the perfection of the final sound, even on the platforms of streaming who do not always care about quality. A rare naturalness, which we can only compare with some studio recordings by João Gilberto or Gilberto Gil, in the same format, as the one mentioned above. John voice and guitar ou luminous gil.

It's curious to write that guitars sound naturally, being an instrument with such a particular sound, but that's it. It was necessary to go back to recover timbres that are increasingly lost in digital music. In “Saravá”, the opening track, Peu Meurray plays a drum created by himself, developed on a tire and which today he teaches how to build in his travels around the world. “It was the drum that taught to sing/ It was the drum that taught to live/ It was the drum that taught to dance” says his song in partnership with Magary Lord and Luizinho do Jeje, the only one not signed by Rogê and Seu Jorge.

“A Força” is the most African of the tracks, it evokes the orixás in the most beautiful lyrics on the album, “And the strength of Obatalá comes from the sky/ And there is justice in the strength of Xangô/ And the strength of Iemanjá comes from the sea/ And comes you with the strength of our love”. Forest percussion, cuíca, guitars that refer to Baden, the highest moment of the album, without a doubt.

“Meu Brasil”, with Pretinho da Serrinha sharing the partnership, could be classified as boastful, but the clue is false. No one can be proud in today's Brazil invoking João Gilberto and Marielle, it would be an affront to our patriots at the door of the STF. Maybe it's closer to a song of exile. Exalting these recent irreparable losses, plus Dona Ivone Lara and Garrincha, the lyrics exalt Brazil that “lives inside my guitar”, “also a descendant of Zumbi”, a country that flows under our feet.

Rogê wrote “For you friend”, a declaration of love and friendship, with verses of great affection, “Look how long it's been / We've known each other, brother / So much that was left behind / A lot of struggle and overcoming / When I most I needed / It was you who reached out to me”. It is the track that best explains the quality of the album, the connection between the composers is revealed without mincing words.

The beautiful “Caminhão”, the first partnership of the two as soon as they met, is the most restrained interpretation of the record, whispered voices, very light bossa novista guitar, says “Give yourself a chance and come enjoy this moment / In my chest the feeling it comes in a way / I only think about giving it to you / You come and I accept you / Because I am a truck / Come now, come without fear / My head is the cabin, and the bucket is the heart”.

“Come save me” is the most romantic, “I’m left alone with no one/ If you don’t come/ I might even be fine/ But with one caveat/ If you’re only mine/ My flower/ A flower of my own”. Performed in unison, with a springtime atmosphere, the chip of Pretinho da Serrinha shines in it.

“Onda carioca”, the last track on the LP, opens with a brief informal dialogue between the two, and before Seu Jorge's voice enters, he sends a “have fun there guys”. It is curious that this suggestion appears precisely on the last track, almost a veiled message to his fans on Sunday, at this point in the album maybe a little dumbfounded waiting for the time for the party to start, when it is already ending. It's the lightest track, a delicious ijexá, reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro that both left behind. “A crashing wave/ Dropping wave/ Surfing wave/ Carioca wave crosses the sea/ Liberté wave/ And égalité/ And fraternité/ Carioca wave crosses the sea”.

Deeply connected to the Brazilian sound, surrounded by the best in the global music world, Seu Jorge and Rogê remind us, in the brief 33 minutes it takes to cross the 7 tracks, of a possible Brazil, where they converge (did they converge?) party and history, rhythm and dance, percussion and street guitar. Everything so close and everything at the same time so far away.

*Henry Burnett He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at Unifesp.

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