LOST albums create a mystique stoked by rumour, fandom and hype, waiting for the moment to surface and often for the bubble of expectation to burst.
But some records emerge from the past almost unannounced, previously known to the very few and for the rest of us waiting to be found before we knew that they were ever lost. Expert curators Far Out Recordings have consistent form in springing such surprises and here’s another from their meticulous digging through the archives of Brazilian music, A Viagem Das Horas, by singer-songwriter José Mauro.
Far Out have unearthed evidence of Mauro’s uncanny genius before, putting out his haunting 1970 debut Obnoxious several years ago, but to some extent A Viagem Das Horas is even more of a find. Recorded at the same Rio sessions as his first LP for the boundary-pushing Quartin label, the album didn’t appear until six years later with several tracks from Obnoxious as replacements. Speculation has long since circulated about this unsatisfactory end to Mauro’s recording career and the silence that followed. Was he imprisoned by the junta as part of their cultural purge; or worse still, killed in a suspicious road accident?
Thankfully the dogged persistence of the good people at Far Out has paid off. They managed to track down the lost musician still living in Rio, who revealed that he had retreated from high profile pop after A Viagem… to work in the theatre and as a music educator. Sadly, as he poetically observed, his long-term absence from the scene had been down to some harsh realities: ‘”My body pushed me away from music; health became a stumbling block for me.”
Against this back drop, the release of A Viagem Das Horas has added poignancy, carrying emotional baggage that this extraordinary, indefinable music manages to match without flinching. The record may be over 50 years old, but it has a resonance to reach out half a century later. The title track exposes the scale of ambition that pushed Maura and his partner, lyricist Ana Maria Bahania, to make such eclectic soundscapes. Maudlin strings quiver atmospherically around Mauro’s deep baritone, setting up a lushly orchestrated samba and lulling you into the warm familiarity of 70s’ Brazilian pop. But there the convention ends – the rustic rhythms, stripped-to-the-bone bass line and backing vocals that swoop suddenly to those minor keys, shake down any notion of an easy listen. This is unquestionably deep chill music. We’ve embedded the track for you below.
It’s that tension between the orthodox and the avant that vibrates through the whole album and gives it an inner strength. “A Oitiva Morada” drifts from torch song to smooth samba (whoops and all) but gets ruffled by slightly off-kilter, almost gothic harmonies; “Luz Lilas” mixes spiritual chimes with some delightfully basic, low-fi brass to give it a warm, lived-in quality; and as a sign-off “O Ninho” allows urgent percussion and booming brass to take over from its opening choral gravitas.
Elsewhere Mauro and his orchestrator Lindolfo Gaya weave in a bewildering range of influences to support their inspired, elusive music. A late sixties pop-psych haze breezes in with the harpsichord patterns of “Varlacao Sobre um Antigo Tema” and the zither/clarinet combo on the melodramatic “O Cavaleiro de Antonina”. To go alongside these flamboyant arrangements, A Viagem… in places takes a more direct, pared down approach drawing on Mauro’s acoustic sensibilities.
“Romanza” connects magically with the madrigal and the medieval, whereas “Rua Dois” revolves around his characteristic, slightly brutal guitar progressions. Those startling open-tuned chords also drive the eerie, experimental “Morango Encantado”, on which Mauro’s vocal, deadpan and almost weary, reaches down to maybe its darkest point.
Without doubt within all the musical exotica of A Viagem Das Horas there is an underlying sense of melancholy matched with a determination to get to the other side. This was music made at a time of extreme cultural oppression in Brazil, in which, as Mauro’s partner Ana Mari Bahiana says, artists found themselves being “part of a generation in transit, searching for another option”.
Maybe that’s why José Mauro’s lost gem of a record makes such an impact listening to it in 2021. It captures where we are, right here, right now.
José Mauro’s A Viagem Das Horas is out now on Far Out Recordings digitally, on CD and on vinyl and can be ordered at Bandcamp.