Saturday, 4 July 2020

Bless The Day #10: Irracional


Hareton Salvanini’s ‘Irracional’ is a magnificently tormented work of art which, with its swirling strings and rich crooning, gets off to a gloriously dramatic start. The strings swell and soar until, a couple of minutes in, the tempo shifts abruptly and a mad sense of release kicks in as the velocity and intensity increases, with brass blaring out, all guns blazing, crazy percussion beating away, before resignation and despair seeps back in and the singer is suffocating, choking in the grey city environment from which there seems to be no escape.

The track comes from Hareton’s S.P/73, a conceptual work depicting disquietude in São Paulo, which was originally released on the Continental label in Brazil, back in 1973, and is now in circulation again thanks to Mr Bongo. It is a brooding work, incredibly emotional and very ambitious in its scope. It is the sort of record that it is easy to put on and lose oneself in, making up scenarios in the mind to match the incredibly evocative music. You really feel as if you are there. It is that vivid a production.
The name Hareton is rarely heard outside of the context of Wuthering Heights, and seeing the striking cover photo of the composer it is easy to imagine he looks a little as Hareton Earnshaw would have done when first encountered by Lockwood. And while the remote rural setting of Emily Brontë’s novel is a world away from Brazil’s capital city in the 20th century there seems a shared sense of mental anguish and loss.
Apparently Hareton had been active for a while musically, but this was his debut album, and he was indulged immensely in terms of being allowed to experiment with orchestration and bold arrangements which make no concession to popular taste. The music is Hareton’s while the words, which feature on half of the songs, are by his brother Ayrton whose world seems to have been more of a theatrical or performance art one. And it is easy to imagine this being the score for a ballet or interpretative dance piece. Perhaps it was used or intended for this purpose?
Another favourite on S.P/73 is ‘Sem Nome’ which is a sleepy blues, a languid lament apparently about how a lost love would open the door, come in and throw her bag down, run over and sit just here, and talk all about her day, so that everything became so real, and how she would turn the record player on loud, and oh if only all this could happen just once more. So, yeah, we are very much in Rod McKuen and Sinatra A Man Alone melancholy confession and nostalgic narrative territory, and Hareton’s weary, resigned sigh on this track is incredibly eloquent.
Even now there does not seem to be an abundance of information easily available about Hareton. He and his brother (Hareton and Ayrton!) it seems came from a creative family: their mother was an actress and their father a musician, and the two parents ran a music school. That would perhaps explain the classical sweep of the compositions on S.P/73, though it is just as easy to imagine other influences at work.
Certainly it is a record that can be placed in the wider context, beyond the popular music of Brazil, of David Axelrod’s themed works, Marvin’s What’s Going On, Gary McFarland’s America The Beautiful, Charles Stepney’s arrangements, Jimmy Webb’s orchestrations, Claus Ogerman’s strings and things, Laura Nyro’s poetic vision, Sinatra’s Watertown, and all sorts of works from Gil and Miles to Shaft and Superfly, which is not to say it even sounds at all like any of these.
S.P/73 is something one actually could get away with describing as sui generis. It is, as you might have guessed, a particular favourite here, even among the abundant brilliance of early 1970s Brazilian recordings, and a disproportionate number of desert island disc contenders come from then and there. Perhaps only José Mauro’s Obnoxius gets played more, but it would be a close-run thing.
Hareton’s great work was first heard here via the much-missed Loronix, a Brazilian music site, to which many of us owe an enormous debt of gratitude. It is odd, but the era of the mp3 blog seems a lifetime ago already, as we continue to live through accelerated change in terms of how we discover and listen to music. Loronix was one of the leading blogs for sharing “forgotten music not commercially available”. Well, that’s in the immortal words of Loronix, though in many cases the music posted on the site was never known outside of Brazil enough to become forgotten.
Maybe it would be fair (or blindingly obvious) to say these altruistic sites shared sounds which turned our worlds inside out and introduced us to music which opened up so many new vistas. At its peak, roughly 2007 through to 2009, these music-sharing concerns were all-consuming, and many of us were addicted to the daily discovery of arcane delights. Things move so quickly that many of the names have been forgotten (at least here), lost among the lists of favourites and bookmarks on abandoned laptops, but with a little prompting fond memories return of sites such as Brazilian Nuggets, Never Enough Rhodes, Red Telephone 66, Snap Crackle & Pop, A Pyrex Scholar, Time Has Told Me, Everything Starts With An A, Quimsy’s Mumbo Jumbo, Ile Oxumaré, Soundological Investimigations, Orgy in Rhythm, J Thyme … KIND, Hippy-DJ Kit, and so on. What other ones were there? Domain names would vary depending on one’s musical tastes.
Some of the old blogs had very specific remits, like the celebration of the Milestone label at The Shad Shack, and the MPS label at Magic Purple Sunshine. Some sites went on to other activities which grew out of their sharing of sounds, like the lovely Bollywood soundtrack LP guidebook that was a by-product of Music from the Third Floor, while With Comb and Razor became a record label, starting with the essential and beautifully presented Show Me Your Backside collection of Nigerian disco tracks, and Frank Gossner’s Voodoo Funk evolved from him sharing stories and artefacts collected from road trips through West Africa into another record company releasing salvaged sounds.
Those blog sites (many of which are now defunct or taken down) generated their own rituals within their community, which involved passwords, links in comments, requests to re-up, and online hosts including Rapidshare, Mediafire, zShare, DivShare, Megaupload, 4shared, Badongo, DepositFiles, and terms like bitrates, rar, zip, burning, and the attendant shopping expeditions for blank CD-Rs and plastic wallets: just try that locally now! Personally, one would steer clear of Pirate Bay, torrents, and Soulseek, for somehow that seemed to be not playing the game. Indeed, among all this activity, there did seem to be a prevailing gentleman’s code, an agreed protocol, which involved removing any links which offended record companies or artists. Mind you, the opposite could be true, and a musician might express delight at a long-lost work resurfacing, or a family member may pass on thanks for keeping their relative’s art alive, as actually happened with Hareton Salvanini’s son over at Loronix.
Loronix’s host Zecalouro, with his parrot avatar, is someone many people have fond memories of. To keep the flame burning, a shadow site was set-up at Orfaos do Loronix and in 2011 the Global Groovers blog ran a moving tribute to Zecalouro himself. Perhaps part of the enduring appeal of S.P/73 is that it was one of the very first records discovered and downloaded here via Loronix, being a little late to arrive at the party. God bless the day that post appeared. Indeed, the entry for 5 October 2007 is still there: “I could not believe when I found this album at the R$1 (one Real, or US$ .50c) section of an influential vinyl store in Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps a new employee did it by mistake because the eyes of the shop owner went big as a golf ball and his humor changed when I claimed this album by this price.”  
Zeca compares the LP to Prelude which was the hook that would prove irresistible, having a big Deodato passion at the time, and being in the habit of playing his ‘Skyscrapers’ and more many times each day, plus plenty of others among his productions, arrangements and recordings, from Astrud Gilberto to Walter Wanderley to Joe & Bing to Clube da Esquina to Sinatra and even Kevin Rowland. A special favourite was a CD reissue of Deodato’s Os Catedraticos 73 which complements his CTI recordings, and was found for a pound in the Fopp shop at Covent Garden.
How was Deodato viewed back in Brazil? Incomparable composers like Marcos Valle, Edu Lobo and Milton Nascimento had flirted with the U.S. market as the 1960s drew to a close, but they returned home to make exceptional recordings, in difficult conditions, artistically and politically, while Deodato really made a name for himself in the States. There are, as Zecalouro suggests, times when S.P/73 does contain moments, for example the visionary whirlpool of organ on ‘Salamandras’ and particularly on ‘Primitivo’, the most dancefloor-friendly track, where amid the madness the music does sound pretty close to what Deodato was doing, and the record even has its own ‘Prelude’ though there is so much more going on over the course of the forty-odd minutes.
The profusion of music-sharing blogs sparked all sorts of moral panics akin to the old “home taping is killing music” campaign that used to accompany sales of blank cassettes and so on, and the FBI anti-piracy seal haunted the mp3 blog domain or at least the sites that hosted files. While the sharing of unavailable records was cited by some as a reason for record stores closing, it wasn’t the most convincing of arguments. And, similarly, cultural commentators rushed in to draw conclusions on the wall, which probably now look as hopelessly dated as the cover of our old rough exercise books at school.
So, yeah, there were a few years’ worth of gluttony until the energy had dissipated, with sites disappearing and the quality of surprises diminishing, but this led to a long period of absorbing and assimilating these (mutant) sounds, and indeed over a sustained passage of time this boy has spent rather too much money buying CDs as these records gradually appeared for sale in a salvaged form, quite often in exquisite editions. And yet there are still important gaps to be filled, with Tuca’s Drácula I Love You being the example that springs immediately to mind, here at least. This was another Loronix discovery, and a record that became a real obsession, and it’s beyond belief that the LP has not been reissued in some form, especially given the connection to Françoise Hardy’s La Question which is rightly rated as one of the best records ever.
Mr Bongo has done a wonderful job in releasing new editions of lost classics, and the label’s supremo David Buttle deserves some kind of special recognition for what he has achieved over a long period of time. His label’s early releases of compilations by Marcos Valle and Joyce illuminated the late 1990s, and it cannot be overstated just how important those collections were here, and what incredible pleasure they have given over the past 20-plus years.
It is quite likely that Mr Bongo’s highest profile CD reissue of Brazilian music will have been the Arthur Verocai LP which came out here in 2016 in one of the smart digipak editions the label specialises in. It is something that meets with great approval here the way Mr Bongo puts out old titles in a manner that faithfully replicates the original release rather than adding new liner notes and extra tracks, etc. Soul Jazz’s Universal Sound imprint is also very good at taking this approach. They seem to understand instinctively that there is something about too much information interfering with the magic of a record.
Originally released on the Continental label, like Hareton Salvanini’s S.P/73, the Arthur Verocai LP has become one of those records which, deservedly so, become revered, and the canonisation of its creator must have seemed like a strange dream for a man whose great work did not set the world alight when first released in 1972. And yet it’s easy to get a sense of the high regard, to put it mildly, that the likes of Eothen ‘Egon’ Alapatt, Madlib and the Stones Throw cratediggin’ circle have for Arthur’s work, and it is intriguing why this particular record has been the one that has become a kind of holy relic. It is fascinating how that process works, where the energy seems to focus on one artist or artefact.
That is not to detract at all from the magnificence of the Arthur Verocai LP which really is quite extraordinary, and no matter how many times it gets played the magic never seems to diminish. It surely helps that it lasts less than half-an-hour, so it doesn’t outstay its welcome and yet somehow manages to pack so much into the proceedings. For a record that seems so easy and warm it is also a work that is incredibly deep and mystical, which has a lot to do with its hallowed status.
And it still surprises: even now when ‘Karina’ starts there is a sense of anticipation, and it always seems as if 4heroic or Photek-y or Moving Shadow-style drum patterns should come easing in on the action. And a whole book could be written on that cover photo alone, Arthur sitting on that bench: watching the world go by or lost in a dream? Tricky to decide.
Unlike Arthur, or Terry Callier or (brilliantly, a Pep Guardiola favourite) Bill Fay or Mulatu Astatke or Shirley Collins, and other souls recalled to life after wilderness years, Hareton Salvanini didn’t live long enough to benefit from a resurgence of interest in his work. Ironically the Mr Bongo reissue of S.P/73 came with a claim that its composer was like a lesser-known Arthur Verocai, just like Arthur had been described as a lost David Axelrod-type genius when his great LP was given a new lease of life.
Presumably the keen interest in Arthur Verocai has in part been behind some of the other choices Mr Bongo have made available again, and these include titles with tracks arranged by the maestro, like Gal Costa’s India, and the 1974 Burnier & Cartier set which has become a particular favourite here, having been first discovered via Loronix, and this was another post where there was a particularly warm reception from a family member.
That Burnier & Cartier record is pretty much perfect in the sense that it strikes a wonderful balance between the Brazilian post-Clube da Esquina sound and the mellow sophistication of U.S. soft rock. The presence of Roberto Quartin among the backing vocalists is a lovely reminder that he picked up on the private press Joe and Bing Daybreak LP for his great Quartin label (home of José Mauro and Piri) partly because their exquisite harmonies fitted in with a penchant for the Seals & Crofts sound that was rife in Brazil in the early 1970s. The debut Burnier & Cartier record seems to be the living embodiment of this passion, in a totally gorgeous way, and they even get the look just right. The record takes time to get its grips into you, but when it happens there is little to do but play the album over and over and succumb to its subtle charms.
Another Verocai-blessed release salvaged by Mr Bongo is the 1972 Célia LP on Continental which Arthur did all the (quietly revolutionary) arrangements for. And this boy is surely not alone in being delighted that Célia continues the fine tradition of Mr Bongo releases by mononymous singers, following on from Joyce and Doris titles. Célia will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has fallen for her singing of ‘Seriado’ on the Arthur Verocai LP, and indeed her 1972 set features a lovely version of ‘Na Bôca Do Sol’. Actually, she is credited as being the person who prompted and cajoled Arthur into making a record of his own: something he never forgot.
Célia was quite a lady, with a warm, rich sonorous tone, and there is a real enthusiasm here for the deeper female voice in Brazilian music, like hers, Maysa’s, Tuca’s, that sort of thing. Mr Bongo have also reissued Célia’s debut LP from 1970, and in a slight break with tradition they included a small booklet which features a wonderfully entertaining interview with the singer conducted by Ronaldo Evangelista a few years before she died in 2017. That first LP is remarkable in the sense that it provides so many connections in addition to being a glorious record.
So, for example, Arthur Verocai and Rogério Duprat are among the arrangers, and a handful of songs were written by either Joyce or Nelson Angelo, exceptional young talents and lovers to boot. Joyce had already had a great couple of LPs out, though in her own words she was still trying to find her voice. She and Nelson had then both participated in the Luiz Eça y La Familia Sagrada project, music released eventually, in Mexico only, as La Nueva Onda del Brazil. This is another of those records found through the Loronix site which seemed to be a complete revelation and has subsequently been played to death here (having been reissued by VampiSoul on CD). The ensemble vocals, the bold jazzy arrangements, and that beatin’ rhythm are all irresistible: samba soul supreme!
The aptly-titled essential Mr Bongo Joyce set opens with her 1970 EP, which she made with colleagues from the A Tribo collective, whose ranks featured Nelson Angelo, Novelli, Toninho Horta, and Naná Vasconcelos. After this she and Nelson made an LP of spectral beauty together which is a very real favourite here, and the quality of their compositions is very much in evidence on the 1970 Célia LP. These include Nelson’s ‘Zózoio – Como É Que É’, the original version of the song that would become much loved as ‘Zozoi’ by France Gall, a highlight of the Jazzman Sevens series.
Nelson Angelo seems a fascinating figure, but even now one would have to confess to not knowing that much about him. It, however, is no mere coincidence that he played on what can reasonably be regarded as some of the most important Brazilian recordings of the early 1970s, including the 1970 Marcos Valle set, Lô Borges, Quarteto Em Cy, his record with Joyce, Edu Lobo’s Missa Breve, plus Clube de Esquina, and following that in 1973 Milton Nascimento’s Milagre Dos Peixas. That is a pretty impressive track record at an exceptionally creative time.
Célia was close to Minas Gerais’ gifted circle of friends, and her debut LP for Continental features ‘Durango Kid’ by Toninho Horta & Fernando Brandt and ‘Lennon – McCartney’ by Lô and Mario Borges, again with Fernando Brandt. Both songs also appear on Milton, Milton Nascimento’s 1970 LP recorded with Som Imaginário, which is a definite favourite here and which feels like, ahem, the cornerstone of the incredibly creative Cluba de Esquina activity, and incidentally has anyone written a book about the magic inherent in that collective being part of a holy trinity with Miles’ On The Corner and Creedence’s ‘Down On The Corner’.
As well as her original of ‘Para Lennon e McCartney’ Célia’s debut also includes Joyce’s ‘Abrace Paul McCartney’ (which together with Laugh’s ‘Paul McCartney’ forms another kind of holy trinity!) and, seeing as this was 1970, these songs would have been recorded around the time The Beatles split. Another great book would be about the perfect fit between Brazilian music and The Beatles, and not just in terms of cover versions, though there are many wonderful bossa-related interpretations of the group’s songs.
So, in the literal sense, there is the link between Lizzie Bravo hanging around outside the Abbey Road studios (shades here of William Shaw’s excellent A Song From Dead Lips, the first in his highly recommended Breen & Tozer series of novels) and being whisked inside to sing on ‘Across The Universe’ through to her later links with the music of Joyce, Milton Nascimento and so on. And there’s the way all these musicians blended the new pop sounds of The Beatles with folkloric elements and other Brazilian musical forms to create something so special.
Another young composer whose material Célia sang on her debut was Ivan Lins: his ‘No Clarão da Lua Cheia’ is the track arranged by Arthur Verocai, and Ivan’s first couple of LPs would also be arranged by Arthur, though these are, unhelpfully, unavailable to buy in any reasonable physical form. Arthur’s songwriting partner on his 1972 LP was Vitor Martins, who would later team up with Ivan Lins, and their name would have almost certainly first entered this boy’s life via the credits for Kalima’s ‘The Smiling Hour’ which the group recorded after Ann Quigley and co. heard Sarah Vaughan singing it on one of her Brazilian LPs, and Kalima’s version still often seems like the most gloriously uplifting of Factory recordings, especially when one takes into account the accompanying video which captures a moment in time perfectly.
Talking of films, if Hareton Salvanini’s S.P/73 had a very strong cinematic feel to it then it was logical that someone should commission him to do some actual soundtrack work, which is what happened. The score for the Polish film maker Zygmunt Sulistrowski’s 1974 A Virgem de Saint Tropez was pretty much all composed and arranged by Hareton, and if the movie was (presumably) exploitative nonsense then the soundtrack conversely remains a work of art. And, yes, once again it was the Loronix site that helped spread the word about this gem, and in recent years it has twice been reissued, solely in expensive vinyl editions, so the old Verbatim CD-R will have to suffice for now.
It is a soundtrack that, in terms of repeated listens, sounds as appealing as any of the old Italian masters working in the same erotica sphere, or any of the composers active in the UK library music milieu like Barbara Moore, Roger Webb, John Cameron, and so on. It is also easy to imagine selections appearing on a Jazzman or Crippled Dick Hot Wax! compilation, especially the gorgeous use of wordless vocals on a couple of the compositions.
There is rather more in the way of beats and breaks on this soundtrack, plus the occasional use of Fender Rhodes and funky wah-wah guitar, all tailor-made to appeal to DJs and producers, more so than the largely-orchestral S.P/73, but there are equally some simply gorgeous snippets of sonata or fantasia-like interludes featuring woodwind and strings and some terrific jazzy trombone work for those among us who love such things. It would, however, have been nice to hear Hareton singing, but life’s not perfect.
In Hareton’s soundtrack work (he would compose and arrange much of the score for another of Zygmunt Sulistrowski’s erotic extravaganzas, 1981’s Xavana, Uma Ilha do Amor, featuring the exceptional ‘Growing’), and on the actual S.P/73 set, there seem to be musical motifs that flit in and out of the music: maybe in reality they are nothing at all alike, but it feels like ideas and melodic passages are reprised and referred to and refined, which is not unusual in the work of classical composers, themes and variations perhaps, or leitmotifs, so maybe that is what it is all about: nevertheless it kind of appeals.
And talking of what appeals, if the cover photo of S.P/73 had not been so magnificently eye-catching and attractive it is quite possible that the name of Hareton Salvanini would still mean very little here, and that old Loronix post might have been ignored. This is, admittedly, a rather shallow way of looking at things, perhaps, but ignore aesthetics at your peril. The lingering impact of a striking image cannot be underestimated.


2 comments:

  1. Of all the MP3 blogs, Loronix is the one I've missed the most. Before it I arrogantly believed I knew Brazilian music; man, was I wrong. And extremely happy to be. (Still kicking myself for passing up a copy of Dracula I Love You on eBay on account of $40 is too much... you'd struggle to find one for less than $400 these days). Somehow I missed Hareton Salvanini though, so this is a welcome addendum; currently on a YouTube tour of his songs.

    That Bollywood book sounds interesting...

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  2. Any chance of making the YHO Mixtapes live again?

    Cheers

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