This may be the best disco album ever made by a septuagenarian.
It’s hard to reconcile the grizzled veteran on the cover of Marcos Valle’s new album with the baby-faced Brazilian star who debuted in 1964. Yet throughout his career, as Valle went from the short-haired, polite-looking young man of the ‘60s through the long-haired psychedelic early ‘70s to the shirtless boogiefied ‘80s, Valle’s music has remained youthful even if he’s physically transformed into a kind of bossa nova Nick Nolte. Now 75 years old, Valle is back with Sempre (“Ever”). The defiant portrait that graces it has the optics of an elder party statesman holding his ground in a row of palm trees and staring down misguided youth. But it accompanies a sound as fresh as, well, ever, current without a hint of trendiness, as danceable and beguiling as Valle’s best work.
This is Valle’s first album as a leader since 2010, but it’s like he never left. Opener “Olha Quem Tá Chegando” (“Look Who’s Coming”) announces his triumphant return with lightly funky rhythm guitar and a soulful horn chart. Bassist Alex Malheiros may be the album’s MVP, which brings things full circle with the leader’s long career—Malheiros’ band Azymuth, after all, took their name from one of Valle’s songs.
Lyric translations haven’t been provided, so we have to take on faith reports that Valle is writing about tolerance and satirizing political corruption in a time of increasing volatility at home. So if you don’t understand Portuguese, you won’t get any messages that tap into Brazilian pop’s long history of resistance; but the music is so irresistible it doesn’t matter.
“Minha Romã” is more down-tempo, with its space-age keyboard timbres and relaxed beats coasting under the album’s most endearing melody. On the other hand, Valle turns up the jazz-funk on the nine-minute instrumental “Odisséia” (“Odyssey”), which he leads from keyboards that continue the recurring space-like sounds. Is this trip one that lures the listener away from Earth, far enough away from the world’s problems so that you can let go and dance?
It’s the kind of track that should make Valle’s latest a hit in coffee shops, and that’s no faint praise. From his ‘60s appearances on Andy Williams’ TV variety show (as squeaky-clean a specimen of mid-century mass entertainment as you can get) to his collaborations with Los Angeles R&B singer Leon Ware (resulting in “Estrelar,” the Brazilian’s biggest pop hit), Valle has long been crossover-conscious, seeking out the greatest musical common denominator not to water down his music but to bring it to the most people.
Valle shifts in and out of expertly crafted dancefloor moods for more than an hour (on the digital album). “Alma” is more relaxed, with onetime Tim Maia sideman Paulinho Guitarra providing electric guitar that gives off a hybrid LA/samba crispness. But for the most part, this may be the best disco album ever made by a septuagenarian. “É Você” (“Is That You”) drives in on a propulsive piano beat, while “Vou Amanhã Saber” (“I’ll Know Tomorrow”) ups the tempo with a rapid high-hat. The mid-tempo title track is another one of Valle’s winning melodies, carried again on those cosmic synths.
Sempre is sequenced quite differently between its vinyl and digital versions. The latter includes two more originals and ends with bonus instrumental versions of “Alma” and “Minha Romã,” but in an age of increasingly poor quality control for new releases, the vinyl edition is a gem, a quiet pressing that plays up the album’s rich low end. Whatever version you opt for, this is a vital album from a musician who’s approaching his eighth decade with no signs of slowing down.