NEW YORK As a follow-up to his 1999 album, Tacuma, Brazilian guitarist/composer Vinicius Cantuária planned to take a string quartet into the Amazonian jungle, then return to his Brooklyn home studio and tweak the results electronically.
But on Vinicius, a soft and luscious new album for a new label, he took a more conservative approach.
"I thought I should do something straighter on the first album for my new record company," Cantuária said. "But I really want to do the quartet record. As expensive and difficult as it will be, it will probably be my next one."
Cantuária followed former Verve Records president Chuck Mitchell to Transparent Music, which Mitchell formed last year with jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.
Vinicius, Cantuária's 10th solo album since his eponymous, 1983 debut, combines gossamer bossa nova harmonies, the baiao and samba rhythms of northern Brazil and subtle, ambient sound samples. "Normally my music is more like a circle than a square," Cantuária said cryptically. "But this album is more triangular."
One song, "Normal" (RealAudio excerpt), addresses the cultural triangle created by the tropical northeastern Bahia region (where the day begins with "a hot soccer match on the sand"), the urban office complexes of São Paulo that attract workers from the north with their "lunch pails of happiness" and the "carioca boys" of Rio de Janeiro.
Cantuária has another triangle in mind as well, a theory involving the origins of bossa nova.
"Bossa nova for me comes from the United States," he explained. "It comes from the jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker and pianist Bill Evans. [Antonio Carlos] Jobim listened to these guys in the 1950s and added a Brazilian sound. But the great thing about bossa nova didn't come from Jobim but from João Gilberto. Bossa nova on piano still sounds like jazz. But Gilberto's guitar captured the Brazilian atmosphere and made something new."
As on prior albums, Cantuária pays homage to Jobim on Vinicius, this time with "Ela é Carioca" (She's a Carioca) (RealAudio excerpt), which combines hardcore Brazilian harmony with guitarist Bill Frisell's country-jazz twang.
"You can't be more modern than Jobim," Cantuária claimed. "It's impossible."
Cantuária, who has lived in Brooklyn for the past seven years, claims to feel more Brazilian outside his native land. But he maintains close ties with Brazil's musical community.
Vinicius opens with "Clichê do Clichê" (The Cliché in the Cliché), which he co-wrote with Gilberto Gil several years ago. Three other songs were co-written with another Bahian star, Nana Vasconcelos. On "Agua Rasa" (Shallow Water) (RealAudio excerpt), Cantuária is joined by Caetano Veloso, the Brazilian singer/songwriter in whose late-'70s ensemble, Outra Banda da Terra, he performed.
Cantuária received the assistance of some American friends as well. "Agua Rase" was co-written with art rocker (and successful producer of Brazilian music) Arto Lindsay. David Byrne co-wrote and co-sang "Rio."
Cantuária's band is anchored by longtime Jobim drummer Paulo Braga, although former Frisell bandmate Joey Baron also drums on Vinicius.
A former rocker in the popular Brazilian '60s group O Terco, the 49-year-old Cantuária occasionally writes songs for Brazil's young pop stars to pay the bills. "If the 19-year-old blonde wants me to write a song, I have to," he said.
"All musicians in Brazil do a little bit less than they really can do," he said, bemoaning an economic climate that reduces his and his peers' music to nearly underground status. "But I try to write noncommercial songs that become commercial."