Album Review: João Selva- Passarinho : Re-shaping samba soul, funk and pop with a fresh momentum.

The Breakdown

There's a focus and fine touch together with a wider license to roam through his influences that gives ‘Passarinho’ a more complete feel. The heady blend of global beats with songcraft at the core of Selva's musical partnership with Patchworks continues to thrive.
Underdog Records 8.7

The troubadour will travel but they always have roots. Brazilian song-crafter João Selva may have ended up in Lyon but those formative years in Ipanema and Rio is at the heart of his borderless grooves. Schooled in bossa nova and the traditions of Capoeira, steeped in the diasporic riches of Brazilian music and gifted with a Bahia to the Carribean rhythmic sensibility Selva has been forging his own way within the bustle of musica popular Brasileira.

In previous bands he has worked with globetrotting rhythmicist and producer Maga Bo and in 2016 teamed up with Bruno Hovart (a.k.a Patchworks) who according to Selva reminded him how to “dig those laid back Rio vibes“. It’s that partnership and their musical connectivity which sparked his second offering after 2017’s ‘Natureza’, the deceptively funky, samba infused ‘Navegar’. Now comes his next album release for French label Underdog Records, ‘Passarinho’, again a result of the Selva/Parchworks team at work and indicative of that heady blend of global beats with songcraft at the core of their musical partnership.

Passarinho, the nimble title track, immediately highlights the new ambitions that give this album fresh momentum. Selva’s accomplished samba plus his effortless pop-toned vocals may be the tune’s starting point but the 70’s soul-powered orchestration and bubbling bass funkiness add an urgent dramatic thrust to the song. A celebration of the tiny Brazilian bird that symbolises his country’s fragile environmental state, it’s a song of earthy tenderness and rootsy intent made vibrant by its retro, live sounding clarity.

The exuberant, upbeat Cantar Cantar sees Selva stepping out even further on this new album. Disco-funk with a confident strut, “point to the ceiling” temptations and sky-high strings, here is the sound of things getting better for everyone. It’s a big production with a Marco Valles stamp of invention in the whirling synth squiggles and lounge jazz chord shapes of the cool downs. Vai Te Curar follows a similar funky footstep, samba infused and pepped up by trim piano/guitar trading but there’s a more innovative energiser in Seu Carnival, where the key notes of Antillean Zouk mingle with afro-samba and a calypso splash. A song that looks to the power of carnival, it hops, skips and jumps with dazzling fluency while still making time for finesse. The clipped excitement of Selva’s voice, that slow sway of the backing vocal, the assured acoustic break out and the rootsy ethio organ all add to the snapshot of “linen suits and flowery ties” being celebrated here.

Such focus and fine touch together with a wider license to roam through his influences gives ‘Passarinho’ a more complete feel than João Selva’s previous samba pop leaning records. They were always satisfyingly smooth and accomplished but on this album everything feels more spontaneous and unpredictable. The hints of Cape Verdean Funana gives Menina Me Canta a breath taking, accordian pumping swing, soothed further by the warm, oily slides of Boris Pokora’s trombone. More surprises arrive with Sete Ventos, an urgent appeal set to a samba rock pace that swells with big brass combustion from Chicago/ Blood Sweat & Tears style engineering. Here Selva’s voice takes a lower register, more reflective and thoughtful, but still managing as the song pushes on, to bring some hope.

It’s clear that as well as the musical expansion on ‘Passarinho’, Selva’s lyrical fluency has also continued to develop. Brazilian pop has a strong tradition, particularly since the Tropicalia days, of merging the poetic and political, beneath the shine big questions get explored. Selva has cited Ailton Krenak, writer, philosopher and indigenous Brazilian figurehead as influential in his thinking for the new record. Embedding these ideas in the spirit of his new songs and exploring similar environmental themes as Lucas Santtana on his recent ‘O Paraiso’ album, gives ‘Passarinho’ added purpose. The messemba tinged Chuva may patter along briskly with splashes of flute and hand percussion, but underneath the good time gesture there’s an understated song of praise to the life-giving force of rain. In the same way Cirandinha mixes prog touches into an easy listening samba pop ballad while the lyrics hint at a more complex emotional tangle.

So the impact of ‘Passarinho’ is always going to be subtle but away from the groove-rich immediacy of the uptempo cuts, those more restrained pared back moments suggest the full potential of João Selva’s song writing. Take the shimmering presence of Por Um Amor, a live sounding exchange of tumbling percussion, echoing guitar lines and lo-fi harmonising or the jingling innocence of closing track Mar De Estrelas, with its quirky folksiness and bobbing rhythms. These are not just incidentals amongst all the locomotion and layers but key parts of an album which shows the musical partnership of Selva and Patchworks continuing to thrive. The sound of gentle persuasion is in very safe and sensitive hands.

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