The pantheon of Brazilian music greats is as long and difficult to enter as that of any country in the world. And among this list of names, from Caetano Veloso to Gal Costa to Milton Nascimento and beyond, Jorge Ben Jor stands out. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, his discography expanded with one forward-thinking, adventurous album after another. Combining elements of MPB, samba, funk and soul, he stood out among his peers with a musical and lyrical irreverence. His 1970 album Força Bruta, while not considered his magnum opus (that honor falls to 1974’s A Tábua de Esmerelda), contains the greatest number of those soaring, goosebump-inducing moments that he has such an aptitude for. Loose, yet full of impeccable musicianship and sheer personality, it is simply Jorge Ben Jor at his creative peak.
Recorded with the Trio Mocotó band in periods of unrehearsed night-time recording sessions, Força Bruta carries the feel of a live recording, one that can be heard in an NPR Tiny Desk Concert of any number of stripped-back, in house radio sessions. Ben Jor’s vocals are nonetheless as grand and passionate as ever, teetering on an unsteady ledge yet always coherent with the rest of the instrumentation. On the end of “O Telefone Tocou Novamente” (“The Telephone Rang Again”), he launches into a raw yet stunningly beautiful falsetto, singing “Com ela eu sou mais eu Com ela eu sou um anjo Com ela eu sou criança Eu sou a paz, eu so o amor E a esperança” (“With her I am myself With her I am an angel With her I am a child I am peace, I am love And hope”).
In the melancholy opener “Oba, Lá Vem Ela” he sings of unrequited love: “Não me imporo Que ele não me olhe Não digo nada E não saiba que eu existo, que meu sou Pois eu sou muito bem quem é ela E fico contente só em ver ela passer, oba” (“I don’t care that she doesn’t see me That she say nothing That she doesn’t know I exist, who I am Since I know her very well I’m happy just to watch her pass by”). Many note that Força Bruta is one of Ben Jor’s most melancholy albums, especially compared with earlier classics such as his debut Samba Esquema Novo. Yet this pervasive sense of sorrow does not manifest in dour vocals and instrumentation as one may expect. Força Bruta is truly an album that celebrates life, and throughout the record Ben Jor fully throws himself into its emotions, reaching soaring heights as well as equally passionate lows.
Força Bruta is an album that unveils more and more of itself with each subsequent listen. The arrangements composed by Ben Jor and the Trio Mocotó band can be incredibly subtle at parts, while enveloping themselves around Ben Jor’s manic, climactic vocals at other parts. Either way, their nuances and little flourishes (see the shifting bassline in “Terezinha”) merit further listens. Jorge Ben Jor’s discography is one few artists can match, and Força Bruta is the perfect introduction.
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