Previsão do tempo
Odeon – 1973
Marcos Valle eluded Brazil’s cultural censors, and created his definitive artistic statement with 1973’s captivating Previsão do tempo; a “lost classic” of the música popular brasileira scene, the album doesn’t so much beg for rediscovery, but it certainly rewards it.
It is often noted how great art is forged in the crucible of social, cultural, and political tension. However, in the case of Marcos Valle’s Previsão do tempo, one could be forgiven for failing to recognize the album as a product of life under a repressive military dictatorship; its laid-back demeanor, smooth production, and affable melodies provide ample cover for a record that ultimately aimed to send coded messages beyond Brazil’s cultural censors, and to a public that best remembered its creator for penning the sunny bossa nova standard, 1964’s “Samba de verão” (“Summer Samba”).
The year of Valle’s signature composition looms large in the modern history of Brazil. It was in the spring of 1964 that troops marched into Brasília, signaling the beginning of a coup that quickly overthrew the democratically-elected president, João Goulart, and replaced him with a U.S.-backed military regime that would rule over Brazil for the next two decades. The easygoing nature of “Samba de verão” would ultimately fit in with the image that Brazil’s new leaders wanted to project for the country – one that conveniently swept aside the anxieties that many of its citizens felt in the moment.
That same anachronistic nature would characterize Valle’s early-seventies artistic peak; at least on the surface. It was with 1971’s Garra that Valle – along with his brother/lyrical collaborator, Paulo Sérgio Valle – first began to incorporate a more nuanced brand of social and political commentary into his music. Notably, Garra included the pointed “Jesus meu rei” (“Jesus, My King”), a song whose original incarnation – “Pobre do rei” (“My Poor King”) – had been red-flagged by the Brazilian censorship bureau for its thinly-veiled criticism of President Emílio Garrastazu Médici. Ultimately, several of Garra‘s tracks would be abandoned or revised, under the stern order of Brazil’s cultural authorities.
Whether it was a case of a more subtle approach, or the oversight/ignorance of the censors, Valle’s 1973 record, Previsão do tempo, would face significantly less “coerced revision.” Its specific components often provide a fascinating case study in the duality of perception. Take for example, its cover. One might look at the image of Marcos Valle – captured by Paulo Sérgio – as a playful one, exemplifying the relaxed, often aquatic, sounds contained within the LP. Another interpretation – and, according to Valle himself, the correct one – is that his open eyes and mouth are suggestive of a victim of torture, the kind that comes at the hand of an oppressive dictatorship.
This duplicity runs rampant throughout Previsão do tempo‘s opening trio of songs. On its surface, “Flamengo até morrer” (“Flamengo ‘Til Death”) is a sincere ode to Rio de Janeiro’s soccer team, Flamengo. In reality, Valle – himself a fan of Rio’s Botafogo – used Brazil’s most popular team as a substitute for the dictatorship; it would, I suppose, be akin to a Kansas City Royals fan writing a sarcastic homage to the New York Yankees – the “evil empire” being taken down a peg by the small market underdog. Likewise, “Nem paletó, nem gravata” (“No Jacket, No Tie”) is a continuation of the anti-consumerist material that accounted for much of Garra‘s run-time; itself borrowing heavily from the hippie idealism of the late-sixties.
Perhaps most surprisingly flying below the radar of the censors was “Tira a mão” (“Hands Off”). Opening with the line (translated), “Get your hands off my shoulder, I’m not your brother,” Paulo Sérgio Valle’s lyrics are a scathing tell-off to the police (at the time, referred to slangily by the tira of the title). In the liner notes to the album’s 2013 reissue on Light in the Attic Records, Marcos Valle states: “I think the censors must have been sleeping for this album.” Incidentally, it was only the following track, “Mentira” (“Lie”), that would be censored – not for any alleged political content, but for its “overly sensual” nature. Oddly enough, subsequent tracks – including ones celebrating dead political activists, decrying cultural stagnation, and longing for a pre-dictatorship innocence – would arrive on record shelves unscathed by Brazilian authorities.
Of course, focusing exclusively on the lyrical content of Previsão do tempo neglects what most English-speaking listeners have found so endearing about the record – the very elements that would push an acclaimed reissue label into putting it back into print, decades after its initial lukewarm commercial reception. With Previsão do tempo, Marcos Valle set out to create a style that defied easy categorization, and instead, blended a range of influences into a sound all his own. Naturally, the music lover thrives on points of reference, and throughout Previsão do tempo, several intriguing ones can be identified: the atmospheric soundscapes of AIR; the lock-step rhythms and lush melodicism of Stereolab; treated guitars and keyboards that suggest The Flaming Lips; and a Fender Rhodes-led funkiness that recalls Herbie Hancock’s landmark Head Hunters, released in the same year as Previsão do tempo.
To create this unique sound, Valle mostly worked with a new group of musicians. Aside from “Flamengo até morrer” and “Samba Fatal” – both of which utilized his earlier band, O Terço – Valle enlisted a then-unknown trio, consisting of José Roberto Bertrami (keyboards), Alex Malheiros (bass), and Ivan Conti (drums). Dubbed Azimuth, after one of Valle’s earlier songs, this backing group would only work with Valle on Previsão do tempo, but would soon embark on a career that continues nearly half-a-century later. Their versatility, unique musical interplay, and shared respect for sonic space are critical in making Previsão do tempo such an alluring listen. Only the side-B opener, “Os ossos do barão” (“The Baron’s Bones”), finds the group breaking character from the even-tempered groove that is sustained nearly throughout.
Valle’s own musicianship – he’s the one manning the Rhodes electric piano and most of the record’s guitar work – finds a perfect complement in Azimuth. While Conti and Malheiros constitute an impressive rhythm section, they leave ample room for the two keyboardists, Valle and Bertrami; the latter tends to generate the ambience that rewards repeat listens, while the former typically provides the melodic sensibility that makes the album immediately accessible.
It’s those repeat listens that truly elevate Previsão do tempo above most of the contemporary MPB (música popular brasileira) scene. The same subtlety that helped the album’s lyrics evade censorship is also applied to its instrumental components. Individual highlights are there, for sure, but like the aforementioned Stereolab, Previsão do tempo best succeeds in its ability to establish and sustain a mood. That it comes with such meaningful undertones only makes for the icing on an already-delicious cake.