Resurfaced: The Magical 1980 work by Piry Reis

It offers a vital new perspective on the singer-songwriter sounds of the 1970s....

Sometimes the discography of an artist raises more questions than it answers.

Consider the work of guitarist, singer and composer Piry Reis, whose 1970 debut Voces Querem Mate is frequently cited as a catalyst for the progressive rock-meets-psychedelia-meets-jazz moment that flourished for a short time in early ‘70s Brazil.

Then what happened?

Reis was recognized as a changemaker, and that put him in demand as a collaborator; he toured with the legendary Egberto Gismonti and appeared on other records. (A tune he wrote is featured on Magico, an extraordinary 1980 trio date featuring Gismonti, Charlie Haden and Jan Garberek.)

Yet Reis didn’t document his own music again until this self-titled release in 1980. Scarce even then, it’s been a fetish object for record sleuths ever since; last fall, when the startup Records We Release announced a Deluxe Edition among its initial offerings, it sold out instantly.

It’s now been re-pressed and also made available via Bandcamp and streaming services. Here’s a link to the music on Spotify, but please (Please!) purchase if you can – we won’t get more of these out-of-nowhere time capsule rediscoveries unless we support the labels doing the hard work of finding and rehabilitating them.

Reis might not have been making records in the ‘70s, but he was paying attention – to the work of Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges (whose own solo debut, the one with the Adidas sneakers on the cover, is an Echo Locator favorite), and also to the thoughtful singer-songwriters of Laurel Canyon, notably Stephen Stills and Jackson Browne. (He even looked the part….)

Those disparate influences created an entirely unexpected collision. Context: By the middle ‘70s, many of Reis’ Brazilian contemporaries were immersed in the rhythmic language of electric Miles Davis and jazz fusion. There was a general move away from acoustic instruments. The tranquility of bossa nova began to be eclipsed by assertive (and only distantly samba-inflected) funk backbeats.

Reis went in the opposite direction in 1980. He embraced the pensive acoustic-guitar arpeggios and strumming patterns of singer-songwriter music. He wrote melodies that have the soaring, spirit-seeking quality of Brazilian folk, then expanded them with chords that are at once airy and tense. And he enhanced that tension with strings, or a capricious soprano saxophone. Example: Near the end of the utterly and unspeakably gorgeous  “Acalanto,” Reis abandons the lyrics to join the strings for a final theme that rings out like a closing-credits coda. It lasts just ninety seconds or so, and that’s all Reis needs transport listeners into a deep idyllic mood.

Maybe Reis, who’s released a few things since, took so long to make this record because he didn’t quite trust the idea for an intimate, song-focused chamber pop work from Brazil. Maybe it was too subtle for its moment – the road he opened up remains relatively desolate. That doesn’t change the contribution of Piry Reis; this music has lots of recognizable touchstones, but no direct parallel.

Yes, we have a fancy digital suggestion box. Share your favorite Underloved/Overlooked records here:

Please consider subscribing (it’s free!). And…..please spread the word! (This only works via word of mouth!)