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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2002


Epoca de Ouro: 'Cafe Brasil'

Brazil has produced more than its fair share of indigenous popular music, but the most basic is choro, which in Portuguese literally means "sobbing." That isn't to say all choro songs are designed to make the listener break down in tears. It has more to do with the ensemble sound, a kind of contrapuntal wailing that can also be found in Dixieland jazz. A mixture of fado and European salon music, choro was the original urban sound of Rio de Janeiro and Carnaval. It eventually evolved into the more rhythmically stimulating samba, which eclipsed it in popularity.

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But not completely. The most important postwar booster of choro besides the composer Pixinguinho was probably Jacob do Bandolim (Brazilian musicians often go by the names of the instruments they play), who was already a veteran choro artist when he formed the intimate radio ensemble Epoca de Ouro in 1961. In a musical environment where the primacy of samba was being challenged by the fresh new sounds of bossa nova and MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira), it was difficult to keep choro in the public ear, and the group dissolved after Bandolim died in 1969. However, it re-formed in 1973 at the request of Paulinho da Viola, a superstar sambaist who was then advocating a return to roots music.

Despite its continuing relevance as the purest musical form in Brazil, choro has remained somewhat obscure on the international stage, overshadowed as it is by its offshoots. This situation may be finally changing with the release last summer of "Cafe Brasil," an album that features the latest incarnation of Epoca de Ouro and a host of younger enthusiasts. If there's any justice in the world, "Cafe Brasil" should do for pre-bossa nova Brazilian music what "The Buena Vista Social Club" did for pre-salsa Cuban music. Like danzon, which the BVSC helped revive, choro is basically sophisticated cafe music, made for romantic dancing rather than sweaty workouts.

Later this month, Epoca de Ouro will be re-creating much of "Cafe Brasil" for a special two-night stand in Tokyo. Joining them will be percussionist Celsinho Silva, saxophonist/flutist Mario Seve and vocalist Marcia Cabral.

Cafe Brasil play March 23, 7 p.m., and March 24, 5 p.m., at Tokyo International Forum, Hall C. Tickets are 6,000 yen and 7,000 yen. For more information, call Conversation at (03) 5280-9996.

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