Published Jan 01, 2006To hear Moreno Veloso tell it, he's a failed scientist who has fallen back on music to tide him over during his struggles in his Rio de Janeiro lab. "I was playing a few instruments like cello and guitar and percussion, and I was playing a little with friends and a little with my father, but I was not having a musician's life," says Veloso, a scarf wrapped around his neck to help fight off a bug he just picked up in Montreal. "I was making my money doing studio work, but I was trying to be a scientist. I work in experimental physics, in cryogenics. But I'm not very good at it," he says, shaking his head apologetically.
Dropping science, indeed. But when your father is Caetano Veloso, perhaps the most significant musical presence in Brazil since the bossa nova boom of the early 1960s, and when your acquaintances include Antonio Carlos Jobim's grandson, Daniel, and Joao Gilberto's daughter, Bebel, music seems a more natural fit.
The unusually eager embrace of Music Typewriter, the first North American release by his trio, Moreno Veloso +2, may owe something to the groundwork laid by his father, a founder of the tropicalia movement who has only recently started receiving his due outside Brazil. More likely, Veloso's following in the wake of breakthroughs by Bebel Gilberto and Brazilian-inspired electronic crews like Thievery Corporation, which have whetted the North American appetite for the lithe, zephyrous breezes of Brazilian pop.
Along with Gilberto, Veloso is at the fore of a new generation of Brazilian artists who have made the most of a dual birthright of home-grown traditions like samba, bossa nova and tropicalia and the Brazilian ethic of openness to outside influences. But while Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and the earlier tropicalists omnivorously incorporated psychedelia, rock, folk and funk into their heady brew, Veloso seems more immersed and bathed in a world of influences that don't so much surface in his music as ripple within it.
"I think it's very healthy in Brazil dealing with outside influences. I think ever since Tom Jobim, Joao Gilberto and tropicalia, everyone was dealing very much with mixing other music with Brazilian styles. We also deal with outside influences, but I think it's always like this in Brazil."
So much so that indefinability in part defines Brazilian music. "I do not know how to say my music is in Brazil," Veloso shrugs, "but it's still very much a Brazilian music. It has no specific style."
If anything, Veloso's music draws more from his father's immediate forebears than the tropicalists themselves. He has inherited his father's gift for lilting melodies and tender voice sympathetic to delicate strands of melodies, but shares little of the tropicalists' love of complex arrangements. Tracks like "Sertao," which bears a passing resemblance to "A Felicidade" from the Black Orpheus soundtrack that put bossa nova on the map more than 40 years ago, are simpler than even early bossa nova, but still evoke the lush melodicism of Joao Gilberto's renderings of Jobim songs.
Still, Music Typewriter is tickled with whimsy and tweaked by unobtrusive hip-hop beats, playful elements of DJ culture, and old-school funk grooves. Like the late Yugoslavian-born producer Suba, Veloso has already mastered the art of blending sounds without showing any seams, incorporating sounds made by sandpaper or table-tennis game without making the texture of the music any less velvety.
The mood of Music Typewriter is suffused with lyricism, but Veloso disclaims any of the loftier ambitions of his father's generation, whether they be poetic or political two of the hallmarks of the tropicalists, who often paid for their political outspokenness with arrests and exile from a Brazil ruled by a military junta in the early 1970s.
"I think music is much better without politics," Veloso smiles a little mischievously. "But also, music is a very strong form of communication, so people use it to bring some bad news or good news. But I prefer it without politics."
But he's not about to disclaim the weighty influence of his father, even if he'd be happier if he wasn't expected to be the second coming of Caetano Veloso. "I think the music is surely because of my father and because of my friends. It seems like I cannot escape from music. It's all around me, every friend I have, every relative, cousins, uncles, everywhere. They have kept me in music my whole life. My music is totally related to them."