Seu Jorge and Almaz | Album Review

Brazilian superstar Jorge Mario da Silva aka Seu Jorge returns this autumn with a collaborative effort involving Almaz, a band comprised of some of Brazil’s premiere musicians: Lucio Maia (Guitar), Pupillo (Drums) – both members of celebrated group Nação Zumbi- and film score composer Antonio Pinto on bass.

The four previously worked together for the soundtrack of Walter Salles’ incredibly depressing film Linha da Passa. They had such a good time they decided to get back in the studio to jam. The outcome of these sessions is an album that re-works in curious fashion various Brazilian and Anglophone tunes with Seu Jorge’s distinctive vocals binding the project together.

Jorge is something of a legend in his own right both as a musician and an actor. Having grown up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, even losing a younger brother to street violence, he’s perhaps the quintessential ghetto-kid-done-good. You might recognise him from playing handsome victim-turned-avenger ‘Knockout Ned’ in the seminal City of God or as one of Bill Murray’s seafaring crew in another one of my favourite films, Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Jorge did a selection of David Bowie covers for the Life Aquatic… soundtrack that proved very popular, helping to bring his music to the attention of a wider, more international audience.

As a singer-songwriter he is highly regarded in his native Brazil and worldwide. Yet Jorge’s is not a beautiful, clean vocal. It’s harsh, anguish-ridden, nicotine-coated but full of heart. It’s as if the richness and complexity of Brazil’s vast history is encapsulated in this one voice.

Seu’s first solo release Carolina-an undeniable classic- is something like the perfect debut. From the opening bars of the superb title track the record is one long joyful assault on the senses, exploring samba in its many glorious guises.

Never one to stand still sonically, Jorge’s subsequent albums have tended to move away from the jubilance of the first record into more alternative territory with varied results. 2005’s Cru doesn’t live up to the inspiration of Carolina and 2008’s America Brasil O Disco, quality-wise, hovers somewhere between the two.

On this latest offering, Jorge channels his experimental streak into transforming the classic and the obscure. But this isn’t some paint-by-numbers covers record; to his and Almaz’ credit they endeavour to bring something new to the table although it’s not always certain if they get away with it. For instance Kraftwerk’s playful, synth-fabulous ‘Das Model’ is given a moody, psychedelic rock makeover that’s certainly listenable but lacks the sense of fun of the original.

There’s a highly discomforting aspect to the soundscape of their version of ‘Girl You Move Me’. Indeed, the main criticism of the album would be that it suffers from a uniformity of texture-as if Jorge and co have been listening to The Doors a lot lately. And yet some of the interpretations work surprisingly well. On their cover of Roy Ayers‘ ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ Jorge sings a couple of octaves lower than the original lending a darker, almost sardonic tone to this adaptation. The effect is strangely enjoyable.

Seu Jorge and Almaz – “Rock With You”:

The record’s absolute highlight is Almaz’ take on Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock with You’. The arrangement is much grittier, removing all the harmonies and other signposts of sweetness from the original. Jorge also goes with a (purposefully) off-key vocal for most of it, which makes some of his R&B-style adlibs all the more pronounced; moving even, in an odd way. The true star of this version, however, is Lucio Maia’s delicious guitar riff which replaces the original call-and-response BGVs. Someone, somewhere please find an excuse to put this on the soundtrack of some independent hipster picture or cult TV show; it would be ideal for one of those ‘underdog gets the girl/boy of his/her dreams’ moments.

Some of the more unfamiliar song choices stand firm on their own merit too, such as ‘Juizo Final’ ‘Saudosa Bahia’ and ‘Pao Joao’ – which is worth a listen for Maia’s brilliant guitar solo alone.

It takes a little while to fully warm to Seu Jorge and Almaz. It doesn’t have the instant likeability of some of Jorge’s earlier work. Nevertheless the imagination that this South American super-group must bring to their arrangements and the excellent musicianship on display eventually pays off.

–Tola Ositelu

Seu Jorge and Almaz is out now via Now-Again Records, distributed by Stones Throw.

They play at the Roundhouse in Camden, London this Sunday 17 October. Box office: or 0844 482 8008