Byline: Malcolm Jones
Take note, 'Dancing With the Stars': Tom Ze's take on the samba earns a 10.
In the 1960s, a loose confederation of young artists, poets, and musicians gave their native Brazil's culture a near total overhaul. The movement was called Tropicalia, and the musicians, especially, influenced music at home and abroad. Led by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, Tropicalia mixed and matched folk forms such as the samba--and its more modern cousin, bossa nova--with African rhythms, jazz, and psychedelia. Disparate as they were, most of the Tropicalia artists managed to fit inside one--admittedly huge--tent. And then there was Tom Ze.
Now in his 70s, Ze has always gone his own way. His songs can turn lyrical one moment and in the next sound like a chain saw dueting with a chorus of cicadas. His singing is just as mercurial: here he sounds like a '40s big-band crooner, there like Leonard Cohen on a sunny day. His influences, which he sometimes lists in album liner notes, range from literary essays to Bach, and underlying everything is a rhythmic sense without parallel. Somewhere in Ze's song bag, there's music for almost any taste. And the more you hear, the more you want to explore the rest.
Now's your chance. David Byrne's adventurous record label, Luaka Bop, has issued Studies of Tom Ze, a three-album set that collects his classic reinventions of samba, bossa nova, and opera. Issued on vinyl, it sounds magnificent (for the digitally …