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Seu Jorge And Almaz: Double Billing, One Album

Seu Jorge is an international music star and has been since his debut album, 2003's Carolina, made him a sensation worldwide and set the stage for a career in movies. So it's a little surprising to find him sharing equal billing with the three other musicians on their new album, Seu Jorge and Almaz.

It goes back to how they all met -- on the soundstage of a Walter Salles movie called Linha de Passe. Almaz, as the trio is now known, and Seu Jorge had recorded one song for the film and got along so well creatively that they kept going, ending up with an album's worth of tunes in just nine days.

They found they had a lot in common. Celebrity ego went out the window, along with any notion of staying within any particular music category. As you would expect, there is a Brazilian flavor to the proceedings (Almaz's members are also Brazilian-born), but they all embrace their love of psychedelia, surf and pop music in general, as well. Home base is as much Redondo Beach as Rio de Janeiro, with Seu Jorge singing in both English and Portuguese.

The music sometimes has a quasi-retro feel in both style and content, albeit with a contemporary moodiness -- Brazilian samba sways next to Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" (here given a delicious intimate massage). In Kraftwerk's "The Model," techno, rock, surf music and '70s punk are welded together with Jorge playing Ian Dury to Almaz's Surfaris.

While no new ground is being broken, the groove is watertight, the chops fresh and sinewy, and there is the informality of musicians getting together to play just for themselves. It is the caliber and connection of the musicians that make this album work so well.

The sea breeze groove of "Cirandar" reveals a dexterous turn of phrase and execution that keep it tightly focused, anchored by slightly jazzy drums and supple bass lines. Guitarist Lucio Mala is the second voice to Seu Jorge and sets the tone for each song with some vivid and thoughtful counterpoint to the frontman's vocals. At the other end of the spectrum, "Girl You Move Me" flashes back to Jimi Hendrix and the Experience, and you begin to realize the experience being brought to bear here.

But at the core of it all is that voice, an unsettling confluence of romance and disturbance, velvet and sandpaper. It has star power, and it transcends language and styles. Whether Seu Jorge may sometimes meander around notes and melodies is as relevant as a two-lane blacktop is to a panther in the forest. The band rightfully strips down the arrangements and gives him plenty of space to roam without contradiction. There is an easiness here, perhaps because of the wide parameters and reference points they've set for themselves.

Seu Jorge and Almaz has the looseness of a private jam session with your favorite musicians, but with each having a clear and equal part to play. It feels ready to be packed into the truck and taken on the road with no muss, no fuss. A double billing has never been more deserved.

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MusicMorning EditionAll Things Considered
Derek Rath