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Domenico Lancellotti - The Good Is a Big God Music Album Reviews

Domenico Lancellotti - The Good Is a Big God Music Album Reviews
Working alongside his longtime bandmates Moreno Veloso and Alexandre Kassin, plus the string arranger Sean O’Hagan, the Rio multi-instrumentalist ponders Brazilian music’s rootedness.

The notion of place has always played an outsized role in Brazilian music. To read its history is to be confronted with a long and complicated answer to the question of what music originating from a particular place at a particular time should sound like, rather than a log of aesthetic revolutions—notwithstanding its genuinely revolutionary nature. Put differently, Brazilian music offers a resounding rebuke to the notion that engagement with the rest of the world means capitulating to its norms.

It’s an argument that Rio-based multi-instrumentalist Domenico Lancellotti has absorbed for most of his life, and one that informs his new album, The Good Is a Big God. The son of bossa nova singer Ivor Lancellotti, Domenico has over the course of his career collaborated with a who’s who of legendary Brazilian musicians—Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil—and in the early 2000s was a member of +2, a democratic trio with rotating leadership that also included Veloso’s son Moreno and Alexandre Kassin. It was with the latter group that he released his first record as a bandleader, 2004’s Sincerely Hot.

With The Good Is a Big God, Lancellotti rarely wanders beyond his national borders, and in the process he quietly makes a case for giving in to the soft magnetism of home. It finds him hooking up once more with his +2 bandmates, along with frequent Stereolab and Cornelius collaborator Sean O’Hagan, for a thoughtfully arranged and powerfully executed set of songs that, for all of their breeziness, suggest a deep grounding in Rio’s sandy shores and the countryside’s humid crags.

Throughout the record, Lancellotti draws clean melodic lines with his acoustic guitar, then complicates them with clattering percussion, deploying samples and electronics the way the tropicalistas used baroque and chamber-pop instrumentation. You can hear echoes of the elder Lancellotti’s melancholic songwriting updated with drifts of electronic fizzling and distant programming in opener “Voltar-Se,” while “Tudo ao Redor” recalls the sashaying existentialism of João Gilberto; O’Hagan’s string arrangement in the latter deftly shifts along with Lancellotti’s graceful phrasing, here resembling Rogério Duprat’s tropical filigree, there suggesting the well-pressed pluck of Mexican ranchera.

As with Gil and Caetano Veloso before him, Lancellotti’s view of Brazil has only been enhanced by the time he’s spent outside of it. Nine of the album’s 14 tracks were composed for Rio Occupation, a 2012 London art exhibition meant to link the two Olympic cities. Lancellotti answers the flash of the moment with shushed reverence, painting still lifes of brief encounters that seem to take place just beyond earshot of the traffic outside. “The weight of light on your hand vibrates in the morning chill,” he sings in “Tudo ao Redor,” while in “Asas,” he embraces a lover and feels the electric pulse between them: “The left hand on the right hand/Your soul flush to mine/Both perfect/Sweet fusion/Beatitude that burns.”

And where the view encompasses more than he can hold, he simply lets it go: The brief “Serra dos Órgãos,” named for the national park an hour north of Rio, is a showcase for O’Hagan’s strings, which fold in on themselves over and over, forming jagged crevasses and rounded peaks in a way that recalls Maurice Ravel, while the mostly instrumental “Shanti Luz” stutter-steps like the disco thump of a carioca William Onyeabor. Even as “Voltar-Se” threatens to drift irrevocably into interiority, Lancellotti gathers the cloudy programming and spins it into a whirlwind of drums, pounding his way out of his head and back into the rhythms of the real world.

All of which makes The Good Is a Big God a political record powered more by context than content. The protest isn’t against regimes—though that occasion may soon arise again—but against the conditions of the globalized city and the Olympic-sized spectacle that, in its size and scale, blots out the importance of ordinary life and reduces the natural world to little more than an occasionally compelling background. Still, like the tropicalistas, Lancellotti is too engaged with what’s happening around him to turn to a reactionary regionalism. Instead, he places us at the top of the Serras, where the view is lofty enough to see for miles and miles.

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