Milton Nascimento, MINAS (1975).
Except for a melodramatic ‘Norwegian Wood’ bonus track (I prefer PM Dawn’s — oh, and the Englishman’s) this is all Brazilian Portuguese, and I’ve never looked around for translated lyrics. No need, really. As pure sound, as longform musical structure, as an example of what you can do with maybe an hour of recorded sound, Minas is a triumph on par with the understandably overrated Dark Side of the Moon, mixing elements of jazz, funk, prog, chamber/baroque pop, and a variety of Latin styles into a work of generously melancholy psychedelia which signifies both within and across individual tunes. The out-of-phase children’s chorus which recurs throughout the album could be a folk tune or a lullaby or the Brazilian national anthem for all I know, or even a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of melodic inspiration — it doesn’t matter which, because the melody functions in a variety of ways from track to track, here a ghostly descant, there a calming restoration, now a question mark, then a closing parenthesis. Like the street sounds which fill the great Black Orpheus soundtrack, Minas‘s children’s chorus place the already unconventional musical goings-on in a rich context that’s no less vividly imagined or imaginable for being a studio fantasy.
That ‘Norwegian Wood’ is the remaster’s biggest question mark. Like everything else on Minas, it’s gorgeous, building over five minutes to alternating statements of the two minor-mode lines (‘She asked me to stay…’). Slowed down considerably from the original, whose inappropriately jaunty groove is the point of the track, the source of its poisonous irony, Nascimento’s cover turns Lennon’s kiss-off into something between a hymn and a dirge. But it’s not funny, and beauty isn’t in short supply over the 42 minutes prior to ‘Wood.’ So why’s it here? I suspect the answer is some variation on ‘vibe’ — Nascimento’s treatment of Lennon’s tune, like John Coltrane’s unbearable intensification of ‘My Favorite Things,’ perfectly suits the overall project, and while it makes sense that it was left off the original album, the song only makes sense in that context. The sheer pleasure of the intertwined voices and rich orchestration is the only justification needed for such a performance, but if you’re reading for meaning (which maybe you shouldn’t) then you’ll find it in the way ‘Norwegian Wood’ picks up gingerly, quietly, after the ‘Day in the Life’-ish orchestral shenanigans of proper album closer ‘Simples.’ Again: descant, restoration, question mark, parenthesis.
Minas is grand without sounding pretentious, intimate without inducing claustrophobia, subtly sexy without bothering with readymade grooves so labeled. It reminds me strongly of Shuggie Otis’s hermetically funky Inspiration Information, another work of easygoing psychedelia by a master arranger. Both albums benefit, in rerelease, from bonus tracks which enrich the overall experience — Otis’s ‘Freedom Flight’ is a perfect sequel/extrapolation of the ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ outro, while Nascimento’s ‘Caso Você Queira Saber’ reaffirms the equivalence of the album’s great pleasures (spiritual and bodily).
Of course, the lyrics might make a fool of me. But again: I prefer not to know, for now. The sound is rich and varied enough, ramifies broadly and pierces deeply enough, without that extra meaning-layer. I’ve just tracked down a healthy portion of Nascimento’s discography, and look forward to digging deeper, but after a dozen listens, Minas seems inexhaustible: that marvelous paradox, a complete and self-contained and well wrought representation of a vision without borders or limits.