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Musical theater by a pop insurgent

April 09, 2006|Josh Kun

Tom Ze

"Estudando O Pagode" (Luaka Bop)


SaO PAULO'S Tom Ze may be nearly 70, but he's way more rebellious than most teen upstarts -- a global pop insurgent and critical folklorist armed with political theory, wry sarcasm and boundless musical mischief.

On the surface, his latest album (in stores Tuesday) is simply a wild alt-samba ride through sunny melodies, dramatic coed vocal interplay and bright electro-acoustic backdrops that include the whistled hiccups of a hand-rolled ficus leaf (in the past, Ze's been known for making music using vacuum cleaners and blenders).

But Ze is a strident conceptualist, and "Estudando" is an agit-pop three-act operetta perched atop a doozy of a concept: male domination and the abuse of women.

Based around 16 interwoven vignettes and set in locations as disparate as the Garden of Eden, the U.N. Security Council, the Vatican (during a gay pride march) and a Bahia stage production of "Don Quixote," "Estudando" -- which Ze dedicates to 18th century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft -- turns mere ideological target practice into surreal and kaleidoscopic musical theater.

There's a hint of a happy Hollywood ending when a chorus of men and women conclude "Love is bile and honey," but Ze knows better. The last, finger-snapping word goes to soprano Suzana Salles: "What honey, you bum?"

-- Josh Kun

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair),

three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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