Martin Longley’s New York Sounds: Brazil In NYC

Martin Longley appreciates a sudden invasion of Brazilian artists in New York City…

Arto Lindsay
New Museum

Arto Lindsay

Arto Lindsay Photo Credit: Cristina Guadalupe

Right from the outset, singer and guitarist Arto Lindasy appeared uncomfortable about the framing for this gig in the New Museum on the Bowery. He’d been involved in one of the current exhibitions upstairs, documenting the art scene in that area (Come Closer: Art Around The Bowery, 1969-1989). Much of the music erupting from that vivid scene would have typically inhabited some grimy, graffiti-covered, beer-swillin’, vomit-coated, dimly-lit joint, rather than this gleamingly white, blank-spaced, glare-lit gallery. Well, at least Lindsay’s one-man show was down in the museum’s basement. He might have felt quite exposed, like a squirming creature pinned to a sterilised mount. A butterfly and a beetle are apt creatures to personify the constant contrasts in Lindsay’s songs. His gentle, softly-whispered Portuguese lines, infused with the emotionally-exposed troubadour sound native to his spiritual home of Brazil. It becomes a mixture, with Lindsay’s fragmented-staccato guitar outbursts jolting straight out of the Downtown NYC environs, and harking back to his No Wave beginnings with the DNA trio in the late 1970s. Often, he’ll separate these aspects of his work, but lately Lindsay has been developing a solo performance stance where the introverted aggression fuses into an entity that’s shifting at a rapid rate between the two vocabularies. A third vocabulary is created. The violence is somehow calm. The floating fragility now carries an underlying threat.

Lindsay was like a one-man orchestra, employing a rabble of effects pedals to constantly change the tone and attack of his guitar, often in mid-phrase. Rarely do we witness a musician who exhibits such a beautiful sense of poise, timing, gesture, sensitivity and sheer naked aggression. Lindsay’s approach was extremely percussive, frequently dwelling on a flabbily detuned bass string, which he used to sketch out an underlying pulse. His 12-string turquoise Danelectro has been battered down the decades, but it’s lived with him enough to become a symbiotic partner. The combination of finger-brushes, tantrum blows, feedback, distortion shaping and chopping rhythms created the language of an entire band, orchestrated with loud and low dynamics, strategic pauses and violent detonations. When he was singing, the guitar swooped down into the sonic nether regions, becoming a sensitised rhythm tool. There are few instances of noise-bossa, or sambacore, but even if there were, Lindsay would be the new genre’s master practitioner. Suddenly, he decided to sing “Let’s Get Lost”, closely ghosting the fragile and forlorn quality of prime interpreter Chet Baker’s spectral vocal. His other striking cover was of Prince’s “Erotic City”, milking its promise for romantic-sleazy commingling. Lindsay was full of smart self-observational quips about the art gallery situation, and his own place within that scheme. He pointed out that the gallery was loaded with white folks dressed in black, whereas down in Brazil he’d most likely be playing for black folks garbed in white. Lindsay was at once a cheerful joker and a caustic critic. His sonic emissions matched his personality.

Egberto Gismonti/Chucho Valdés/Danilo Pérez/Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Carnegie Hall

Four highly significant jazz pianists came together as part of Carnegie Hall’s lavish Voices From Latin America season. It was a rare NYC appearance for Brazil’s Egberto Gismonti. Cuba’s Chucho Valdés has become a more regular visitor in the last few years. Fellow Havana man Gonzalo Rubalcaba and the Panamanian Danilo Pérez are more frequently found on the local club scene. What was particularly notable, though, was the opportunity for all four players to appear at the same concert. Initially, there were a mere three pianos on stage, but following the intermission a fourth was wheeled out. Such a piano-loaded stage is not a sight witnessed too frequently.

Each pianist was given their own space at first, and the majority approach seemed to be an absorbing of the lavish Stern Auditorium surroundings. Two things were noticeable. Firstly, that some degree of classicist flourish was a temptation, given the nature of the gig. Secondly, there was a lack of projection to some of the playing, a sign that these artists have become deeply accustomed to an amplified instrument. The exception here was Valdés, whose method involved a complete dominance within the hall. He was markedly louder and more expressive than the other three, making himself at home in the Stern. It was an amusingly schizophrenic solo, as Valdés switched between grandiose flourishes and earthy Cuban son phrases. Gismonti played last, diverting to a linear flow rather than the space-peppered cascades favoured by the other three. It was almost in minimalist territory, standing apart in its stylistic choices.

The second half involved a pair of duos followed by the inevitable full foursome climax. The pairing of Valdés and Rubalcaba suffered from a jokiness that was perhaps a reaction to their unattainable momentum. The ultimate quartet improvisation held the interest, but its tension of uncertainty led to frustration rather than excitement. The four never really coalesced, and the journey moved to frequent ports, never quite establishing a firm foothold. Perhaps the audience was in agreement, as there was no call for an encore. Maybe the show was satisfyingly lengthy, or maybe the urge just wasn’t there. Speaking of the audience, the majority fidgeting disease was rampantly spread. It’s astounding how many folks just candle handle sitting still any more, without openly chatting, wriggling around in their seats, attempting to film or photograph, or just plain gazing into their illuminated screens. This was mostly quiet music that demanded complete concentration.


Following the Carnegie gig, it was possible to savour a completely contrasting performance, caught at very close club-quarters, in the sonic embrace of Brazilian rock, funk, jazz and pop. Nublu in Alphabet City has a consistent connection with Brazilian music, besides its many other loves. Kassin is probably even more renowned as a producer than as a performer, but here was a chance to catch his own band, the night before several of its members were playing in Orquestra Imperial at Carnegie Hall, again as part of Voices From Latin America. Kassin plays bass with that large ensemble, but in his own combo he mostly sticks to guitar. Comparison with Arto Lindsay is apt, as the songs melded a pop sensibility with outbreaks of rugged rockiness. Kassin’s solos were well contrasted with those of his guitaring compadre, opting for a spiky punk atonality, whereas the latter’s licks were more descended from the flowing Santana line. Eras of rock’n’roll were clashing within one band. Kassin’s vocals were often deadpan and world-worn, but the band exuded a playful vitality, intensified by frequent saxophone solos.

Orquestra Imperial/Arnaldo Antunes
Carnegie Hall

A contrasting Brazilian double bill opened with Arnaldo Antunes, a very influential singer in his homeland. Emerging from the post-punk era, this stance is still visible in his work, even though the songs are rife with pop melodies. It seems as though much of his individuality is contained within the words, so a listener’s facility with Portuguese is probably preferred. The band features a few quirky trimmings, with the use of banjo and copious guitar effects. Indeed, guitarist Edgard Scandurra employed a vocal effect that soon became an irritating novelty. Antunes sat on a high stool for much of the duration, but leaped up to demonstrate his distinctive dance moves, involving impressive footwork that seemed somehow redolent of the 1980s post-punk period. He’s no great melodicist, but Antunes is concerned with the communication of his personality and poetic sentiments.

The 20-piece Orquestra Imperial offered a more impressive spectacle. It’s difficult to fix their category, other than being obsessed with a retro glorification of a vintage form of Brazilian music that might even be an illusion. Imperial co-opt and update a range of styles into an ultimate form of nostalgic dance music, but they can’t be compartmentalised as either old school or new innovators. They’re rooted in the gafieira big band samba that stretched from the 1940s to the 1970s. Roles within the band were frequently switched, with at least four singers cavorting at the stage-front, blessed with a range of individualist voices and body languages. Their number included Thalma de Freitas and Moreno Veloso (the son of Caetano). This was obviously the right combo to play second in the evening, cumulatively gliding towards a rousing, controlled chaos of a finale.

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