Synopsis: 2005 was a busy year for Seu Jorge. Following his acclaimed movie role singing David Bowie songs in Portuguese in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and ongoing promotion for his latest album Cru, he made his first appearance at the Montreux Festival. With a program combining several tracks from Cru with previously unheard songs and older favorites, this is a performance full of his characteristic warmth and charm.
Seu Jorge: Live at Montreux 2005 7.5
eyelights: Seu Jorge’s voice. the energy of the high-tempo pieces.
eyesores: the language barrier. the shortness of the set.
I first heard of Brazilian singer Seu Jorge something like a decade ago, when I hosted my radio show, “What The…?“. The station purged their stock of extraneous material (overstock, CDs not being played anymore, …etc.) from time to time and they would leave bins full of CDs for the hosts to cherry-pick from. Insatiably curious as I am, I picked up a lot of CDs in those moments.
This is how I stumbled upon a promo copy of Jorge’s latest album, ‘Cru’. I knew nothing about him, naturally, but I was drawn by its cover artwork. We didn’t have to chance to listen to the CDs, so I just took it home. My attitude was that it only takes up shelf space, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to explore something new. And, when it comes to music and movies, I’m quite the explorer.
I really enjoyed ‘Cru’. Brazilian samba is hardly my first draw (in fact, had the album been sold to me on this label alone, without seeing the cover, I would have passed on it), but I rather enjoyed the album’s flow and vibe. I played it a few times and Jorge remained on my radar. So when I discovered that he did a Bowie covers album, I naturally had to get it.
And when I found this one-hour live performance on DVD, I immediately decided that I wanted it. Oh, sure, it took me two and a half years to get to it, but when I started to program music-related blurbs once a week (precisely to force myself to take the time to watch my music DVDs), it rocketed to the top of my list of must-sees. I was sure that it would be a great live show.
There’s not much to the presentation, mind you. What I’m discovering with the Montreux concert series (based on what I’ve watched and the screen shots I’ve seen) is that it’s usually a no-frills affair. And it’s the same here: Aside for an art deco-like background that looks like apt units but are actually just boxes on a walls, Seu Jorge and his band are just lined up on the stage.
After some quick introduction in French, they started to play.
1. Mania De Peitao: Taken from ‘Cru’, this is a mid-tempo Brazilian number. It has a pleasing Spanish guitar sound, a nice beat and the other band members provide background vocals. It’s groovy. There’s this weird squeeky sound that comes from a Brazilian friction drum called a Cuíca. I’m not sure if I like it, but it gives the song a distinctive flavour. Performance-wise, they were all just sitting there. 7.5
2. Tive Razão: Jorge introduces the opening track from ‘Cru’ in Portuguese. Then he pushes the album. It starts with no musical backing, only vocal harmonies. Very smooth stuff, and he asks crowd to sing along. Then the song starts to groove and that harmony returns as part of chorus. All I could think was that it would make for a terrific track on a beach, maybe at one of those (exploitative) resorts. But I was disappointed that the editing was too quick to see who does what during this song. 8.0
3. Fiori De La Cittá: Also from ‘Cru’, this is a mellow samba number featuring mostly Cavaquinho and voices with some subtle bass and percussion. It hits a couple of nice notes but I wasn’t that keen on the song; it sounded mundane to me. Perhaps if I understood lyrics it would help me appreciate it more. 5.0
4. Sáo Gonça: For this song, the rest of the band leaves; Jorge is alone with his guitar. The crowd claps when he announces the track, which is a slow, folkie number. His voice stands out more here. It’s very soothing, as is the song. It’s so mellow that you can hear the crowds murmur towards the end. There are fewer cuts here, as the camera blends images, focused more on his playing than it had been up til then. 7.5
5. Una Mujer: This is yet another song like the last one. One was good, but two is too much for me, as I can barely tell them apart. I wish I understood the words (although, it could just be that I don’t like folk music all that much). But it was mercifully short, so it was okay. 7.0
6. Te Queria: The band returns for this track from his debut album, ‘Samba Esporte Fino’. Jorge starts with a kick ass guitar rhythm, and then the drum and bass kick in, adding heft. The key hook is the background vocals, adding sweetness to the track. I would imagine that this is Cuban-flavoured, but what do I know? The drummer got to do a solo, but it was nothing remarkable (he needs a roller-coaster rig like Tommy Lee has). Jorge raps 2/3 way in; it’s gruff but there’s a nice rhythm to it. Watching the predominantly caucasian crowd merely swaying to such a bouncy track like this one was dispiriting. At least they’re not sitting. 7.75
7. Cirandar: I’m not quite sure, but I got the impression that this might be a samba classic. However I couldn’t find any info on it with a quick online search. In any case, it’s a cover. It has a nice rhythm, and it’s totally made for dancing. There’s some nice interplay between a few of the band members and, towards the end, the band breaks out more into a faster, instrumental part. Cool. I was confused when I saw a small stream of smoke wafting upwards while Jorge was playing. Turns out that he is smoking on stage, with his cigarette perched on his headstock. 7.5
8. Coqueiro Verde: This is an Erasmus Carlos song. Jorge gets the crowd to sing as he started the song, and then has them join in for the chorus. Although the crowd is into it at first, they’re more subdued then. The song’s rhythm is rooted in the bass, providing it a clean bouncy sound. Some of the women look either amused by the show or were totally smitten. I couldn’t tell. Jorge worked the crowd and a few people actually danced for real. Still, even though most people weren’t dancing, the whole place was moving by then. 7.5
9. Depois Que O Ilê Passar: “Coqueiro Verde” eventually morphed into this song. It’s entirely different, so the transition is only so-so. On its own, though, once started, it’s pretty good – it’s pretty much percussion-based with most of the band members doing some form of rhythm. 7.0
10. Percussion Solo: Seu says farewell and introduced the main act. Then he coaxes some of the others to play a rhythmic number with tambourines, standing and dancing – before walking off. It feels largely improvised, and slightly competitive, as they take turns beating their tambourines. Amusingly, the crowd tries to clap along – but fail miserably. But, to be fair, the rhythm keeps changing all the time. At the end, the lot of them play together. One of them breaks out the Cuíca with the others using a drum each. Then they do a back and forth with the crowd, which was fun. Seu returns to introduce them and says his final goodbyes. 7.0
And that’s it. The show was over. Again, no frills.
I’m no big fan of Latin music, but there are some exceptions. Seu Jorge is one of them. While I don’t like every song, I like a lot of it, and will no doubt seek out his other albums in time. As for the Montreux performance, it was a decent one, very in keeping with a low-key festival set. It isn’t anything outstanding to watch on DVD, but I’m sure you would want to be there for it.
I would certainly considering going to see him live, and I’ll likely play this show in the future – if only for atmosphere.
Date of viewing: June 29, 2014