Like a lot of people, I first became aware of Seu Jorge when he appeared in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing David Bowie songs in Portuguese. I explored his other stuff after that, and while it is certainly of a high quality — sophisticated and elegant in the tradition of Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Jorge Ben — none of it quite hit me in that same spot. Partly because the words are in another language and, unlike the Bowie songs, I don’t know what they mean.
For his most recent album, Jorge (his real name is Jorge Mário da Silva; “Seu Jorge” translates roughly as “Mr. George”) hooked up with bassist and composer Antonio Pinto and two of the guys from Nacao Zumbi, erstwhile backing band of the late, great Chico Science. Seemingly intent on bridging the accessibility gap, Seu Jorge & Almaz is an album of covers, several of them sung in English. My favorite is probably their version of Kraftwerk’s “The Model,” but they do a nice job with Ramp’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and even Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You.”
Wait a minute, “Girl You Move Me” just came on – that might be my favorite. I had a hard time figuring out where this song came from. The Google, All-Music Guide, Wikipedia…all these let me down. Thanks to the YouTube I am pretty sure the original version was by an obscure funk band called Cane & Able that may or may not be French. Their version is pretty fantastic:
The rest of the songs are Brazilian covers, some of artists I recognize (Jorge Ben, Baden Powell) and some not. (“Cali Boca, Menino” is credited to Rod Temperton, also the author of “Rock with You”; I don’t know what the story is there.) But they all share a common sound, jazzy/funky/mellow but with rock guitar and soaked in echo and reverb. Maybe too much reverb…this music sometimes sounds like it’s happening in a room far away. But wherever that room is, it’s a pleasant place to be.