Caetano Veloso plays the Greek next Thursday, April 15, marking the belated U.S. release of his 2009 album, Zii e Zie, a challenging collection of new songs co-produced by his son Moreno.
Veloso is 67, a year younger than Dylan, four years older than Bowie and only a few months younger than that other poet and sonic revolutionary Lou Reed. The mention of his English-speaking peers is not trivial. Veloso's towering, game-changing influence on Brazilian music (both lyrically and musically) from the late '60s onward has been compared to Dylan's, and his polysexual persona and sympathy for new sounds have allowed him to reinvent himself as many times as the singer of “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes” or his American idol crabby Uncle Lou.
One could say that in the arrangements of Zii e Zie, Veloso is trying to reshape the world-conquering sounds of mid–20th century Brazil, the bossa nova and the samba, for the new millennium. Using Bowie and Reed as points of reference, one could also say that this difficult, rewarding reinvention points back to the angular sounds of Station to Station, with a healthy seasoning of sawlike distorted electric guitar, jarring interventions reminiscent of Carlos Alomar or of Reed's late-period masterpiece Ecstasy and his recent live shows.
A lot of attention will be paid to Veloso's dirgey experiment in dub condemning the American aberration at Guantanamo Bay, but the ostensibly political lyrics are just an excuse for another of the album's studies in discomfort and repetition.
The best track, and perhaps the least straightforward, is opener “Perdeu” (“Lost”), which pares the bossa of Gilberto and Jobim into something primitive and incantatory (a minimal beat that recurs in “A Cor Amarela” and “Incompatibilidade de Gênios“), punctuated by the metal machine music of the guitar. Imagine Dr. John's “Mama Roux” interpreted by vintage-era Fripp and Eno and you might get an idea of the unusual collision of tropical fever and cold surfaces Veloso has achieved.
Nobody will ever mistake much of Zii e Zie for Brazil-ploitation bachelor-pad music. The man who godfathered Os Mutantes has created a further mutation. His U.S. label, Nonesuch, is very good at selling comfy jams to the NPR/Starbucks crowd — here's hoping it figures out how to market this disturbing little gem.