Chalk it up to the influence of his side career as an actor, but so far, Seu Jorge has avoided falling into the same role record after record. He was samba’s savior at first, then its Dr. Frankenstein—working electronics into the classic Brasileiro sound—before he risked novelty by creating a full album of David Bowie em Português for The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. On his latest album, Jorge takes up with a proper band for the first time, the psych-inclined three-piece Almaz, to reinvent himself once again. What’s initially striking is how dark these songs are. The eponymous album is all covers, and most come from Jorge’s countrymen—hallowed names like Jorge Ben, Tim Maia, and Nelson Cavaquinho. In Almaz’s hands, these once-springy tunes become the stuff of black, endless nights. “Cirandar” morphs into mournful, reverb-drenched dub, while “Juizo Final” is searing electric psych-rock all the way through. Jorge bends his voice to the cause, alternating between growls and coos—another instrument in the mix.
The English covers are more troublesome. Kraftwerk’s “The Model” is the first, and it weaknesses are immediately evident. Jorge’s tongue gets tangled up in the far less mellifluous syllables, while Almaz seems at a loss as to how to approach music built on texture and repetition, rather than virtuosic finger-picking. The song winds up half-baked, and the bloodless, sedate cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” doesn’t fare any better—it’s pretty terrible. Jorge’s quest to keep it fresh is admirable, but he and Almaz should work out the kinks, and some of their own material, over a second album.