Tom Ze Sings The Body Eclectic

Ze, 62, has been creating musical collages longer than Beck has been alive.

Anyone who thinks Beck's or even the Beastie Boys' style of

cut-and-paste music is anything new, meet Tom Ze.

The 62-year-old Brazilian has been chopping beats and mixing found

sounds longer than those artists have been alive. Unlike true

cut-and-paste pioneers like German classical/avant-gardist Karlheinz

Stockhausen and Miles Davis producer Teo Macero, Ze's radical mixes have

also hit the charts. His latest album, Fabrication Defect, offers

remarkably lively music that shows off both his experimental edge and

his pop savvy.

A founding member of the Tropicalia movement in the '60s, Ze and cohorts

Caetano Velosa, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Os Mutantes helped turn

Brazilian music inside out by blending traditional music, popular

rhythms, avant-garde techniques, social commentary and psychedelia.

Rougher around the edges than his comrades, Ze's love of jerry-rigged

instruments and his scrapyard esthetic bring to mind Tom Waits, another

iconoclast who refuses to mellow with age.

Luaka Bop is misguidedly pushing Fabrication Defect as a sci-fi

"mis-concept album" about how our "defects" -- the desires that lead us

to love, dance, dream -- are our only hope against turning into

androids. In fact, each of the songs is named after a supposed "defect,

i.e. "Defect2: Curiosidade", "Defect3: Politicar" ...

Mercy.

This pitch was almost enough to turn me off the album without listening

to it. To make matters worse, Ze includes a manifesto about the

"esthetics of plagiarism" that explains why it's good to recycle sounds,

re-contextualize, reclaim, etc. I mean, is anyone really learning

anything new here?

All that said ... please try to forget about it. Because Ze's

theoretical bullshit isn't half as interesting as his music. Most of the

songs are built around acoustic guitar, bass and junkyard percussion

with rhythmic loops, fuzzed-out keyboards, strings and a host of

unclassifiable noises artfully woven throughout.

Despite the fragmented transitions and odd sounds, Ze never forgets the

beat and nothing is ever far from being on the "one." Fabrication

Defect swings from lilting and lovely to frenetically beat-driven,

sometimes in the same song. The traditional touches like accordion and

female choruses sound the only sour notes on the album, veering too

close to kitsch. Generally, the further Ze strays from convention the

better.

Fabrication Defect's booklet boasts such irreverent cut-up

couplets as: "My youth's an incinerator, it's later/ If you are held in

esteem, I scream." But how would I know? My appreciation of the lyrics

is limited only by my total inability to understand a single word of

Portuguese. But that's not a problem.

Actually, it's a bonus because it keeps you from getting bogged down by

Ze's conceptual nonsense. Ze mostly raps his words and they come off to

my ears like just another found sound: a guy speaking in an unknown

tongue.

He blends surprisingly well with rhythm tracks, in fact. When Ze sings

-- less effectively I might add -- it's pleasant enough, another melodic

color added to the palate. I may be missing all sorts of profound social

commentary and stellar wordplay, but I suspect I'm better for it.

For all his touted lyrics, the best song on the album has no words at

all. "Defect4: Emere" is built around a loop of

deep, heavy breathing that slowly adds delicately picked guitar, sighing

vocals and a wheezing, insistently scratchy violin. The track is almost

all air, and its rough-hewn stillness is shocking. At first it seems to

be barely playing, but the more you listen the more you hear. It's a

stunning example of creative restraint.

The key to any collage art is making all the far-flung pieces seem like

part of a whole, no matter how unlikely. Tom Ze doesn't just cut

together his collection of defective fragments, he makes them sing.