Lightness, sweetness, and melancholia those are things that define Tom Jobim’s career. You don’t need me to regurgitate a whole Wikipedia page to stress his heralded place in Brazilian music history. Together with João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim allowed for things like space, quietness, and off-beats to have a place in pop music. Everything we here about Tom is always in the past tense, though. That man who worked with Frank Sinatra. That man who created bossanova. That man who sang about girls in Ipanema. That man was something for the past, right? Well, there’s power in discovery. There’s power in the music of Matita Perê. Unlike anything he is known for, it is everything he is known for, untethered from expectation.
Begun in Brazil and finished in New York City, at the height of Brazilian junta’s consolidation of power, imposition of martial law and censorship, Matita Perê was an answer to those who thought Jobim had nothing to offer a new generation of musicians. Like the Buddha going under the pipal tree, liberating himself from samsara, attaining enlightenment, opening his eyes, and the world witnessing his true power, so did Tom go into the music of Brazil’s ecology, come back transformed, with music more powerful in ways that few could have imagined, and released a record that sounds unlike anything else in his oeuvre or much anyone’s else.
The whole of Brazil in a vignette, Matita Perê had easily the most important, life-affirming, and recognizably Brazilian song ever (“Aguas de Março”) tracking alongside his most powerful, mind-bogglingly, deeply human and abstract song ever (the title track, “Matita Perê”). Matita Perê signified everything, at moments when it symbolized the most minute of things – the stick, a stock, a sliver of glass, the promise of life, the promise of death. Yet, Matita Perê had that other side, finding power by symbolizing nothing, when it signified everything through coded words – in the glare of waters, in the black desert, in a clear day, in a clear night, passing seven sierras, passing wild sugar cane fields, everywhere everything ends. The personal as protest. The pull of the world beginning in one’s own hemisphere, spreading out into the infinity.
Matita Perê is a masterpiece because its power is peaceful and waking; music with ripples on the surface, impressively evolving underneath. Orchestral strings may impose their powerful authority but even they must yield to the forceful, meditative, overriding vocals and soft-spoken, ever-resolving nylon-muted strings that will always know better. As wooden and steel-rimmed percussion (skimmed from the tropics and mined in the desert) weighted all those arranged into one path, songs like “Matita Perê” are the ones you keep coming back to. It’s because of those moments of joy that soar above the human condition, beyond so much muck, that still strike elegiac notes, much like namesake bird that inspired this album.
You can hear the ancient, dancing to the timeless music – same as it’s ever been – washing away any semblance of grounding itself in place. Paulo César Pinheiro may have helped inspire this vision, but only Tom knew exactly how to create what Paulo couldn’t picture – the words of João Guimarães Rosa had inspired him before. There was poetry in the environment, there was enlightenment in joining it with the steely, unnatural curves of modernity that Claus Ogerman could only add – that Heitor Villa-Lobos understood once before. Like a sculptor taking simple soil from the ground and imagining a masterpiece, Tom saw some power in his mix. Airto Moreira and João Palma could only help by keeping the kiln hot – when ready.
In the end, Matita Perê offers everything the Tropicalistas and second-generation MPB musicians had always asked of Tom to do. It has the fire and fury of divine musical direction, against those worthy of such intention. Matita Perê has everything the cocktail sippers and jet-set cosmopolitans had missed from him. It had his ever more impressive musical sophistication with new shades of jazz since then, coupled with new classical-isms and abstractions, studied since unknown when, into an accessible here. A mesmerizing work of art, Matita Perê was never going to fit anything anyone asked of it. Matita Perê was life unfolding as it intended to go. There’s always joy in this.
Translation: It’s a half-symphonic song, with a time far too long for radio – almost ten minutes of recording. When I told him that ‘this song will not be played on the radio,’ he replied, ‘This song isn’t for now. It’s for the future.Paulo César Pinheiro, commenting on Matita Perê.