Trapped in the sound of 1982, Gil's Um Banda Um album is covered with canned keyboards and synthesizer on virtually every track. And since it's not the best collection of songs he ever released, it's difficult for the listener to get into even after managing to focus on the songs. Though the joyous, nearly five-minute title track is a highlight, there's just a bit too much synthesizer on these songs. If it wasn't for Liminha's rather understated production, Um Banda Um would probably be rated even worse.
Recorded live at the Montreux Casino, in the 12th Montreaux International Jazz Festival, in 14th of July 1978, Switzerland. This live disc contains a spirited live performace that touches on the funkier side of Gil and Brasilian music in general. Especially memorable is the second tune, Chororo, which has a kind of joyous tropical feel to it which is counter balanced by a musical bridge which appears several times that puts the major chords of the vocals against the minor chords of the band, creating an interesting 'tense' section in an otherwise upbeat song. The cover of Tropicalia favorite Bat Macumba is terrific as well, very extended and different than the Os Mutantes version. This disc is a great addition to any MPB collection, and might also be enjoyed by the jam band set due to Gil's band's funky and frenetic back up work.
Mr. Gil didn't prove himself a great popular songwriter until 1967 or so; like most artists, he didn't arrive full-blown and had to learn his craft and make a living. In the early 1960's, while studying business administration at the University of Bahia in Brazil, he cut a few songs under the direction of Jorge Santos, who mostly recorded commercial jingles; that period is laid out for all to hear on the album "Salvador, 1962-1963" (Warner Brazil). These rare singles contain some sweet, bouncy Carnival marchinhas and samba ballads, but no incredible songs; one of the records, "Povo Petroleiro," was financed by an executive at Petrobras, Brazil's major oil company, and contains the lyric "our petrol is Brazilian gold; it's the pride of a petrol people." But as an early look at a great artist in the making it's instructive, like Andy Warhol's 1950's shoe drawings.
The sound and band that served Sergio Mendes well on Fool on the Hill remain intact on Crystal Illusions, with few modifications. Dave Grusin is right there with a lush, haunting orchestral chart when needed; Lani Hall is thrust further into the vocal spotlight, as cool and alluring as ever in Portuguese or English. Mendes remained on the lookout for fresh Brazilian tunes, and he came up with a coup, one of the earliest covers of a Milton Nascimento tune to reach North America, "Vera Cruz" (with Hall's English lyrics, it became "Empty Faces"), as well as Dori Caymmi's "Dois Dias."