Those who have heard Nara Leao's double-album Dez Anos Depois
(English translation: Ten Years After
) often consider it a crowning achievement of Brazilian music; those who haven't might reasonably ask why. Released quietly in 1971 by Polydor Records, containing no original material and recorded somewhat haphazardly in two separate sessions in Paris, France and Rio, Brazil, the album doesn't have an aura of measured success about it. On the surface, Dez Anos Depois
appears to be a sort of slapdash compilation, its first disc completely acoustic and recorded in Paris, its second recorded in Paris and
Rio, where three Brazilian arrangers complemented Leao's acoustic demos with strings, harpsichord, and woodwinds. Though information on the album is sparse even on the bountiful Internet, it seems reasonable to conclude that these embellishments were recorded without any input from Leao herself.
All this just makes the magic of this album a little more alluring, its status as a hidden gem all the more secure. Dez Anos Depois
sounds in execution not like an aimlessly compiled selection of bossa nova covers but rather like a loving and intimate performance of the same--in its own way, a perfect album. Sliding into a rendition of Jobim's “Insensatez,” Leao's voice, hypnotically double-tracked, is immediately striking. It is a gorgeous and delicate thing of beauty, always at ease with the arrangements surrounding it, a voice of extraordinary restraint only revealed upon multiple listens. For my money, Dez Anos Depois
contains one of the most singular album-length vocal performances ever, even if Leao barely exceeds a whisper on most tracks.
What makes this album a true classic, however, is its impeccable matching of that individual performance to production and song selection. The songs here are uniformly excellent, from Jobim's classic “Garota de Ipanema” to Baden Powell's more obscure “Vou Por Ai,” each with a memorable melody adeptly sung by Leao. But also crucial are the arrangements on display, most of them minimal, drawing out each melodic phrase with grace. I've always especially loved Leao's rendition of “Samba de Una Nota So,” a song that requires impressive vocal agility; the pinging notes of the multi-tracked guitars perfectly introduce the song's brisk chorus, providing a moment of reflection before the proceedings continue. Every song on here contains these moments of delight, exposing a wonderful unity between the musicians involved--all the more remarkable given that some of them were never in the same room.
Even with all this at its side, Dez Anos Depois
seems to demand an analysis removed from our usual standards. Though it is a masterful album by any objective measure, what I remember and appreciate most about it is how it feels like home. I click play--often with shuffle on, recommended to give the second side its due exposure--and feel enveloped, comforted, even in love. I firmly believe in the power of music to challenge us or to motivate us toward some specific end, but it's albums like these that mean the most to me. To truly feel welcomed
by a piece of music is a rare thing indeed, and it is a testament to the power of this album that it sustains that feeling for over an hour. In this way, though its creation may have been a thing of chance, Dez Anos Depois
strikes me as one of the most important albums ever recorded.