1970; r. 2007
t might sound like a slight to call Jorge Ben Brazil’s most genteel offering from the early ’70s—he didn’t have a beard; he didn’t go to jail—but it shouldn’t, per se. Gentility—a kind of aesthetic gentility, at least—is one of those oddly polarizing qualities in Brazilian music: some people find it soothing and soulful, others hear it as limp and indifferent. Even Ben at his most rugged (1976’s África Brasil) doesn’t have the haywire quality of Gilberto Gil’s work from the same time, a difference in approach all the more obvious when the two collaborated in 1975 for Gil e Jorge (Gil is usually the one screaming). Nah, Ben always seemed like the mannered one of his generation, but sacrificing some passion in a bargain for consistency isn’t a crime—I’d rather listen to an OK Ben album than a Caetano Veloso album that annoys me, and there seem to be more of the latter than the former.
By the time Ben recorded Força Bruta at age 30, he was already a legitimate pop star in Brazil; he’d crossed over into the States via a Sergio Mendes cover (“Mas, Que Nada”) when he was 23; and he’d already had hits backed by Trio Mocotó (who played with him on this record). It’s in the context of history that the laid-back quality of Ben’s music becomes refreshing, almost bulletproof: it’s hard to imagine one of our own pop stars at the height of his or her popularity being self-assured enough to make an album as loose as Força Bruta, not to mention using a cover photo of them playing the harmonica with their eyes half-closed. Ben was chill as hell and did not mind letting you observe.
But it all proceeds as you’d expect: demure samba-rock laced with sliding strings, an agreeable, samey atmosphere, no strife on the horizon. Ben manages to be soulful without being gritty; any hoarseness in his voice is a play, part of his overall finesse. Again, this could be a bad thing for you—I’m preferential to 1974’s A Tábua de Esmeralda because it’s a little less accommodating—but it also seems like a ridiculous thing to really lodge a complaint about. When Ben was relaxing with Força Bruta, other prominent musicians of his generation were freaking out over a new military dictatorship and making big, declarative artistic statements. Gentility might not always be a flattering word, but temperance and consideration usually are—and Ben was nothing if not both.