Brazilian Octopus was willed into existence to provide music for runway models.
Sao Paolo businessman Livio Rangan introduced synthetic fabrics into a Brazilian market that was proud of the natural fabric that poured out of its thriving textile industry. His fashion house Rhodia designed clothes that took traditional Brazilian patterns and threw them into the Swinging Sixties with bold saturated colors and geometric cuts. What does this have to do with music, you may ask? It’s thanks to Rangan that we have Brazilian Octopus. Vinilisssimo’s 180-gram reissue of the group’s sole album, released in 1969, is 30 minutes of sheer pleasure that will make you wish there were more of it.
Rangan was one of the prime movers of a changing fashion industry, and in the early ‘60s he had hired well-known musicians like Sérgio Mendes to accompany his early fashion shows. Brazilian Octopus was essentially willed into existence to provide music for runway models.
Hired by Rangan, pianist-organist Cido Bianchi assembled the band, recruited from musicians he had already played with at a local nightclub called the Stardust. These included future Brazilian musical luminaries like composer Hermeto Pascoal on flute and Alexander “Lanny” Gordin on guitar. Much like Rangan transformed the fashion of the time, Brazilian Octopus transformed traditional dance styles into a mod sound.
After successful runway shows, Rangan proposed the group record an album of originals and covers, all of which emit an infectious light swing that has the effortless sound of musicians who had a familiar rapport. “Gamboa” starts the album with a typical flute-heavy arrangement. The opening melody shifts from a dreamlike intro to a swinging mid-tempo that recalls everything from Jacques Tati’s masterpiece Playtime to the background dances on some ‘60s variety show. In three and a half minutes, the group, following the tight lead of drummer Douglas de Oliveira, passes through rhythmic pop-art bliss. Instantly accessible, the music has the smoothness of easy listening and library music and the inventiveness (but not the kitsch factor) of space-age bachelor pad music, with melodic and rhythmic shifts make it more enduring.
Tracks float like swinging fugues, multiple flutes mirroring an organ melody before each flies off on its own birdlike path. The moody “Pavane” pulls off the neat trick of transforming a 19th century melody by French Romantic composer Gabriel Fauré into a Latin dance number. “As Borboletas” (“The Butterflies”) sounds just like its title, as electric guitars suggest the wilder patterns of creatures that flutter along to flute and sax melodies.
Interest in reissuing the album may have been spurred by a 2015 Rhodia exhibit in Sao Paolo. Rangan knew what he was doing commissioning this band; listening to this music makes it easy to close your eyes and picture the bright colors and floral designs of a Rhodia line. “Momento B/8,” as best as can be determined from the untranslated back album cover, was composed specifically for the Rhodia collection “Momento 68,” and like the whole album, it sounds exactly like what you’d imagine a Brazilian fashion show would circa 1968. The vividly named octet deserved more, and was asked to record a second album, but the musicians declined for the simple fact that they never got paid for the first one. Though original copies are scarce, Brazilian Octopus can now happily sit on discerning shelves around the world—though it’s so much fun it probably won’t stay shelved for long.