THE BLOG

Music for the Mythical Brazil

07/07/2014 04:24 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2014

The World Cup lets us non-Brazilians (and some Brazilians) bask for a moment again in the mythical Brazil -- land of dazzling futbol, beautiful beaches, sultry supermodels and supernatural jungles, all moving to a samba beat.

The truth, of course, lies just under the stereotype -- there is some tough living in Brazil and young Brazilians probably listen more to hip-hop and rock than samba, But before FIFA leaves the place, let's not let reality get in the way of our Brazilian dreams. Cue Gisele, Adriana and Alessandra...and Neymar, Hulk and Fred.

Part of the mythos of Brazil, bossa nova is the son of samba that went off to university -- it's a more sophisticated, subtle style as it was first created in the late 1950s. Today it probably has more devotees outside of Brazil than inside, and has spawned its own sub-genre: chilled-out electro-bossa. More upbeat than many electro-bossa performers, the group Bossacucanova recently released its consistently fun fourth album, Our Kind of Bossa (Six Degrees).

This time out, the group has Brazilian samba and pop stars singing on each cut -- with great results. The formula, which works beautifully, is to juxtapose earthy, sensual singers with the skittering electronics that literally swing between the bossa and samba ends of the spectrum.

In the hands of the Bossacucanova-istas, the beats always swing hard, accompanied by ever-changing splashes of sound -- DJ scratching, jaunty brass, electric guitars. The group's bass player, Marcio Menesal, is actually a bit of bossa royalty himself: his father, Roberto, was among the bossa vanguard and he helps his son close the album with "To Voltando."

Maria Rita (daughter of the revered singer Elis Regina) floats over the beats on the lively "Deixa A Menina." On "A Pedida E Samba," singer Elza Soares shows why folks call her Louis Armstrong's long-lost daughter: her brassy, jazzy voice here is well-matched with some hip electronics. On "E Preciso Perdoar," the late Emilio Santiago brings his ultra-smooth crooning to one of the few slower tunes on the album. Veteran sambista Martinho da Vila sings his own "Segure Tudo," infusing the funked up version with his sly spirit.

Hard-core bossaheads may think the fun-loving Bossacucanova is committing blasphemy to the delicate music of Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and it is true that it is somewhat of a distant if loving relative. That said, the group has mastered its distinctive corner of the intersection of Brazilian and electronic genres, creating a collection of irresistible, easy-going tunes.

For another twist on the bossa formula, there's jazz singer Stacey Kent's The Changing Lights (Warner), which has its elegant, old-style bossa swing along with playful English-language lyrics.

The New Jersey-born Kent chooses seven bossa chestnuts, but goes for the English versions for most. In addition, she sings several new songs in the bossa style written by her husband and musical partner, Jim Tomlinson, including two with lyrics by the Japanese-born British writer Kazuo Ishiguro.

One of these originals, "The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain," echoes the wistful tone of saudade, the nostalgia-like mix of sadness and happiness that embues so much of Brazilian music. The nice thing about her singing in English -- whether intentional or not -- is it helps Americans hear the emotional complexity that accompanies the harmonies of the best of bossa.

As befitting the quiet genre, Kent's voice is all spun sugar, lithely gliding along the playful melodies. With the gentle insistence of her band behind her, Kent effortlessly recreates the intelligence and life-loving spirit of the original bossa innovators.

The optimism of the era that spawned bossa nova still evokes a sunniness that warms but never burns. Even more than the gritty reality of the World Cup pitch, the field where Brazilian music plays is the jogo bonito that consistently delivers the dream.

Bossacucanova tearing it up on "Balanca" in someone's apartment?

Stacey Kent having some fun with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba"