If you had put together a representative time capsule around the mid-'90s, you probably would have included a couple of the Red Hot charity compilations, 1990's Red Hot + Blue and 1996's ubiquitous Red Hot + Rio. If Red Hot + Blue introduced a whole new generation to the music of Cole Porter, the Brazilian volume (along with the proselytizing of David Byrne and his Luaka Bop label) rescued the music of South America's largest culture from the then-dusty images of '60s bossa nova jet-set fantasies and '70s fusion jazz. The original Red Hot + Rio made the immortal tunes of Jobim and Gilberto and the sounds of Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento and Astrud Gilberto hip for yuppie dinner parties of the Clinton era. Along with Buena Vista Social Club and Manu Chao, this AIDS-benefit compilation — also featuring Money Mark, PM Dawn, Stereolab and Maxwell — was the soundtrack of polite urban entertainment pre-9/11.
Fifteen years later, long-term Red Hot producers John Carlin, Paul Heck and Vol. 1's Brazilian compiler Béco Dranoff (also responsible for Bebel Gilberto's neo-lounge success) have assembled Red Hot + Rio 2. The new release is a double album that tries to do for the more complex sonic movement of Tropicalia what the first volume did for bossa. If the earlier volume was cosmopolitan in a New York/London way, this time around the North-South bridge has a strong L.A. flavor, drafting Brazilophiles Beck, Mia Doi Todd, Aloe Blacc, Devendra Banhart and Madlib to join Byrne, Caetano Veloso, Rita Lee, the revived Mutantes, Seu Jorge and Tom Zé.
There aren't a lot of surprises on the set: It's still polite urban entertainment that would sound at home at the W, the Standard or a Wallpaper magazine photo shoot. None of the manic energy of baile funk or the more chaotic, surreal elements of Tom Zé or early Mutantes complicates a picture of lush surfaces and pricey cocktails. In that sense, this is less an update of the revolutionary aims of Tropicalia than a continuation of the exotica ambient music of Sergio Mendes and that ubiquitous '90s comp. And sometimes, this kind of gentle escapism might be just what one needs in this Great Recession.
Red Hot + Rio 2, released June 28 by E One and Red Hot, to benefit the Red Hot Organization.