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Pop Music Review

Eccentric, Bizarre Sounds From Brazil's Tom Ze

May 29, 1999|ERNESTO LECHNER

When he took the stage at the Conga Room on Thursday, Tom Ze looked like a frail old bird that had fallen from its tree and lacked the strength to climb back up. But real beauty is on the inside, and the 63-year-old Brazilian singer has musical beauty to spare.

The most eccentric, visionary and irreverent member of Brazil's tropicalia movement, he was discovered in this country through a couple of masterful compilations of his work released on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, and at the Conga Room he was greeted with the kind of delirious enthusiasm usually reserved for pop stars of the Enrique Iglesias level.

It was easy to see why mass success has eluded Ze. His live sound is like a cross between Antonio Carlos Jobim and John Cage. Backed by members of the Chicago experimental rock group Tortoise, the singer presented material from his latest studio album, "Fabrication Defect," and older material such as the joyously poetic "Augusta, Angelica e Consolacao."

Ze made music with bizarre-looking whistles, with pacifiers, with water bottles, and even with a copy of The Times. The set's most mesmerizing moment came when he and some band members donned helmets and created a rich tapestry of rhythms by hitting anvils with pieces of metal, the sparks literally flying on the darkened stage.

From now on, when you talk about the great artists of Brazilian music, you can say there's Jobim. There's Milton Nascimento. There's Caetano Veloso. There's Gilberto Gil. And, happily, there's also Tom Ze.

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