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Caetano Veloso: Noites do Norte

Caetano Veloso’s Noites do Norte (Nonesuch 79631-2; 50:42) takes its title and inspiration from the writings of Joaquim Nabuco, a leading abolitionist activist and the first Brazilian ambassador to the United States. The entire album follows this lead, tracing history, folk philosophy and iconic figures, while exploring what makes up a Brazilian identity.

“13 de Maio,” for example, celebrates the anniversary of the end of slavery, in a tricky, 5/4 timing created by Veloso’s son, Moreno. A jumping, running “traditional” feel is intercut with modern electric guitar riffs, lending a stinging universality. “Michelangelo Antonioni” is a tone poem written in Italian by Veloso, with sweeping orchestral strings augmented by vibraphone and bass for a ’50s jazz quality that transcends the ages to a timeless perspective. “Cobra Coral” sets a poem by Waly Salomao to music, with three unison voices telling a tale of beauty in nature, while hard percussion contrasts lithe Brazilian guitar sweetness, and horns creep in to add majesty. The album’s title track, with text drawn directly from Nabuco’s writings, mixes classical with Brazilian folk tradition-including Veloso’s sweet, floating tenor-for a larger generation-transcending statement.

Though presented mainly in Portuguese, these messages also transcend language barriers through their musical contexts (though English translations accompany the CD). Through Veloso’s unique poetry, storyteller-sedate vocals and captivating guitarwork, Noites do Norte becomes an accomplished work of literature as well as music.

Originally Published