Album Review: Sessa – ‘Estrela Acesa’ : re-imagining Tropicalia with seductive Brazilian pop.

The Breakdown

Blending the pulse and poetry of classic Brazilian pop, psychedelic fluidity and tight-hipped acoustic funk - a record that keeps you listening.
Mexican Summer 9.0

You would be wrong to lazily pass off Sessa’s music as laid back or simply chilled. For sure his sound-world is luxurious and something to recline into but drifting off is not what’s intended here. As Sessa, Sergio Sayeg entwines the pulse and poetry of classic Brazilian pop with psychedelic fluidity and tight-hipped acoustic funk. A lineage may be clear, the oceanic expanse of Arthur Verocai’s strings, Gilberto Gil’s inventive song craft and Baden Powell’s fretboard intimacy but Sessa resists homage as he eases into extending Tropicalia’s new frontier.

His solo debut, 2019’s sultry and sensual ‘Grandeza’ drew appreciative sighs from critics, lured in by its emotional complexity, spikey free jazz and rustic bossa folksiness. You got the feeling that this was restless music destined for expansion. So it’s not surprising that his follow up ‘Estrela Acesa’, available from 24th June via Mexican Summer, finds Sessa’s music scaling up ambitiously.

Much of this is down to the vibrant orchestration that permeates the new set of songs, sensitively crafted by Sessa with arrangers Simon Hanes and Alex Chamuk. So while the opening number ‘Gostar Do Mundo’ may coast in on a familiar wash of pattering bass, nimble percussion and subtle guitar tugs, it’s soon sent searching for wider horizons on a breeze of intricate strings. They quiver, they swoop, they hold those impossible top notes before the cooing sixties backing singers and Sessa’s beguiling, unhurried vocal return the song to earth.

This pursuit of musical exotica continues with the slow swung ballad ‘Sereia Sentimental’, where the strings swooning resonance bring an added yearn to Sessa’s relaxed purr, and again on the cascading counter-melody that gives urgency to the gently thrumming ‘Irmão de Nuvem’. As ‘Estrela Acesa’ unfolds you recognise Sessa’s deep feel for the nuance of Brazilian pop orchestration, where the focus is never queasy or quaint and emotions are often compromised by the occasional discord or non-melody. Perhaps the lushest arrangement on the record, ‘Helena’, underlines team Sessa’s grasp of this more surreal side of romanticism. Haunting and pensive, cymbals ghost around the fringes of an ambling guitar pattern as celestial vocals match the violins melodrama. With percussive rattles and spooked flutes it’s an impressive step beyond the psychedelic while keeping some grasp on musicality intact….float on.

It would be wrong to give the impression that ‘Estrela Acesa’ thrives purely on such filmic sweep and massed glissando, Sessa’s characteristic funky imprint is still very much part of the record’s DNA. ‘Ponta De Faca’ has a flowing roll, hypnotically circling around a Jose Gonzalez guitar pulse and increasingly insistent flute splashes while his established vocal troop (Cica Goes, Ina, Paloma Mecozzi and Lau Ra) provide vibrant colour and an energetic flourish. ‘Canção da Cura’ spins along a similar spellbound spiral with bass and drums building some desperate momentum as Sessa narrates the pain of break up with stark honesty.

That directness in the songwriting is key to the impact of ‘Estrela Acesa’. There may be a grounding in classic bossa nova but the imagery in the songs often goes for the clean strike with an almost gothic twist and that ‘bare-it-all’ abruptness of Mark Kozelek’s everyday confessions. So under the gorgeous mellow funk sashay of ‘Pele Da Esfera’ there’s something bitter and maybe broken going on:
If I dance twisted & slow/ over the skin sphere/ in the middle of so many/ poison in the dance lights in the party.

All these musical and lyrical dimensions could have meant that ‘Estrela Acesa’ spread itself too thinly but Sessa’s focus and acuity ensures that every element on the album complements the other. Having a core band of bassist Marcelo Cabral (from the mighty Meta Meta) plus producer Biel Basile on drums and percussion certainly helps but the clarity of vision that Sessa brings to the record is key to this cohesion. How else could you explain the effortless shift from trip-hop moodiness to cavernous soundtrack choirs to easy-listening meltdown all within one song (‘Dor Fodida’)? Or the natural move from rootsy vocal incantations on ‘Você é a Música’ to the more grandoise title track where the trilling orchestration answers Sessa’s every phrase.

Yes there is some kind of magic going on within ‘Estrela Acesa’, some elusive otherworldliness that you desperately want to grasp but never quite fully understand. What that ultimately means is that you will find yourself going back for another listen, time and time again.

Get your copy of ‘Estrela Acesa’ by Sessa from your local record store or direct from:

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