By Bill Friskics-Warren
A mainstay of Brazil's late '60s Tropicalia movement, singer-composer Tom Ze has spent five decades subverting musical conventions through a wry, captivating body of work that's wowed critics but never earned him the popular acclaim of his countrymen Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Here, in a move as unforeseen as it is refreshing, Ze, now 74, eschews his avant-garde impulses in favor of a largely straightforward set of acoustic guitar-based bossa novas that ranks among his most accessible - and beguiling - collection of originals to date.
Which isn't to say there's no trace of Ze's elfin cheek among the album's 14 briskly paced tracks. The English translation of "Filho do Pato," a sensuous number inspired by a lecture given by the Brazilian critic Sergio Augusto Andrade, is "Son of a Duck." Immediately following it comes "Outra Insensatez, Poe!," a languid track written with Ze aficionado David Byrne, the title of which translates as "Other Stupid Stuff I Did."
Nevertheless - and despite the inclusion of a psychedelic arrangement that borders on musique concrete - virtually every other song here, from the lightly undulating "Rio Arrepio (Bada-Badi)" to the swishing lyricism of "Mulher de Musica," has immediate pop appeal. Many of the songs, including the Beatles-inspired "Roquenrol Bim-Bom," feature sultry-voiced chanteuses who set Ze's conversational rasp in lush, breathy relief.
Those looking for a more definitive primer on Ze and his relentlessly inventive experimentalism should turn to 2010's "Studies of Tom Ze: Explaining Things So I Can Confuse You," a five-disc, vinyl-only retrospective with a title that only hints at the heady reveries contained within.
Recommended tracks: "Rio Arrepio," "Mulher de Musica," "Roquenrol Bim-Bom"