Although he's a huge star in Brazil, and has made an impact abroad with a string of acting roles since 2002's City of God, Seu Jorge the musician (aka Jorge Mario da Silva) seems to send out mixed messages. He's into samba and rock, but also likes to sing well-known pop songs in both heavily accented English and Portuguese, most notably a whole album of Lusophone David Bowie covers for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Almaz is the band that came together to record a song for Walter Salles' film Linha de Passe in 2008. They include two members of manguebeat (mangue bit) pioneers Naçao Zumbi - drummer Pupillo and guitarist Lucio Maia - as well as bass player Antonio Pinto, and Seu Jorge's trademark baritone croonings. Apparently they got on so well they then made a whole album, each member choosing their favourite songs from Brazil and abroad - both well-known and obscure.
Courtesy of producer Mario C, Almaz have a stripped-down but luminously psychedelic sound that's far more spacious and considerably more, um, groovy than the band Seu Jorge used on his last album, America Brazil O Disco. Naturally it has much in common with Zumbi, although they don't go as far as using the pounding alfaia drums of maracatu (one of north-eastern Brazil's most popular folk rhythms) so beloved of that band.
Of the four songs in English, the least interesting is the flaccid cover of the Michael Jackson hit Rock With You. More surprising and successful is the relocation of Kraftwerk's The Model to what sounds like an echo chamber somewhere underneath Sao Paulo. Roy Ayers' Everybody Loves the Sunshine is well suited to Jorge's lubricious tones, and best of all is Girl You Move Me, originally performed by French 70s soul/funk outfit Cane & Able, and here given a cavernous, dub-flavoured treatment.
The Brazilian material kicks off with an atmospheric take on Jorge Ben's Errare Humanum Est, suggesting one of Ennio Morricone's more restrained spaghetti western themes. Other highlights include a tropicalismo-influenced take on Paio Joao, by little-known early-70s psych rockers Tribo Massahi, and a snappy space-rock version of Dorival Caymmi's Cala Boca, Menina.
But it's the band itself that is the real point. The chemistry they have together is abundantly obvious, and this is Seu Jorge's most likeable effort to date. Let's hope they make another record together.