Antonio Mello, Dexter Payne, & Thiago de Mello
Ethos Brasil

Brazil and its music(s) radiate something irresistible to foreign musicians: Paul Simon, David Byrne and Arto Lindsay, to name a few, have proved fruitful cross-pollinators.

Sometimes, though, the most satisfying Brazilian-flavored records aren’t the artsy egghead hybrids, but those closer to the tradition of artists who brought the country’s music to American ears in the mid ’60s: Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Inspiration grew out of a collaboration between clarinetist Dexter Payne, a “reedman on a musical pilgrimage,” Brazilian guitarist and composer Antonio Mello, and percussionist Thiago de Mello. All three musicians play bossa nova with winning subtlety, fitting together like pieces of an intricate, intimate puzzle. Payne’s clarinet (he occasionally switches to alto sax) carries most of the melody on these 11 tracks (including a Jobim cover); finally, a virtuoso musician who really hears the Brazilian whispers, and not just the carnival clamor. (Andy Smetanka)

Dexter Payne plays with local jazz musicians David Horgan and Beth Lo at the Basin City Jazz and Art Experience in Basin, Mont., this Sunday, June 6. Tickets ($25-$50) are still available; call (406) 225-3500 for more information.

Mission of Burma
On Off On

If ever there existed a patron saint of indie bands, it’s Mission of Burma. Yet it’s been 22 years since the release of their masterpiece (and only full-length LP), Vs. Criminally ignored in their day and sidelined by guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus, MOB must still have swayed more to their side than they imagined.

Generally, reunion deals have the odds working against them. But Miller’s discordant squall sears through On Off On, and Clint Conley’s muddy, fat bass fuzz—the coolest since Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Cassady—thuds along with Peter Prescott’s off-the-cuff drumming. It’s beautiful. Even with modern technology enlisted to thicken up the sound, it sounds like only hours have passed since Vs.

MOB has a chemistry that only this combination of three—the first to combine punk rock with a psychedelic edge—can conjure. Some of the bent power-pop sound is still there, but this older MOB is more driving now than during the band’s days of quirkiness. It’s as if their agenda has become clear. On Off On is almost flawless, the energy surpassing many up and coming bands of youngsters half their ages. There’s still no one to compare to Mission of Burma. (Bryan Ramirez)

The Smugglers
Mutiny in Stereo

Can anything brighten up a drab day—or a drab year—like a new Smugglers record? The fact that one only comes out every three to four years just makes the anticipation that much sweeter.

You can always count on Vancouver, BC’s goofiest for a good time. 2000’s Rosie was probably the best time yet; Mutiny in Stereo is essentially more of the same and, alas, kind of a letdown for it. The Smugglers ham it up with no less enthusiasm than on anything previous, but Mutiny can’t quite muster the crash-boom-bam charm of past efforts. As on any Smugglers record, half the songs on Mutiny have to do with just being the Smugglers—house parties, high-jinks, run-ins with the law, stealing their fellow Canadians’ pants. The good times are starting to sound routine, and the cuteness of writing songs about other band members and their exploits has begun to wear a bit thin. Members are also getting older, settling down and starting families, and it shows in the pace of the songs, the marked absence of hebephrenic falsetto vocals like the ones that made Rosie’s “Useless Rocker” such a revved-up nut-rock gem, and the general restraint of this record. Everybody has to grow up eventually. The Smugglers have settled down pretty nicely. Are we playing school? I’ll give it a B. (Andy Smetanka)

It’s All Around You
Thrill Jockey

I’ve never seen Tortoise live. I don’t even know how often they play live or how far afield they roam from their native Chicago, but one of the reasons they always treat me so right on record is that the point of interest is always shifting, which is something to look for in a live show, too. Even the way they record their records keeps you on your toes—a Tortoise album is the headphones equivalent of an IMAX movie theater.

The emphasis in It’s All Around You is on laid-back, percolating grooves, heavy on those familiar tinkling vibes. It starts off smooth and mellow and mostly stays that way. By contrast, 2001’s Standards opened with an immediate declaration of danger and ambition, a distorted, needle-burying, full-electric guitar reveille. Standards talked a big game and backed it up. It’s All Around You speaks softly without carrying the big stick. It feels downright unassuming by comparison.

By the same token, Tortoise is many different things to many different listeners. Some prefer the mellow funk downtime to the jittery electronics, free-jazz bursts and pregnant pauses of the band at its most adventurously asymmetrical. For them, there’s It’s All Around You. For thrill-seekers, there’s still Standards. (Andy Smetanka)

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