Seu Jorge is best known around these parts for his film roles -- as gang leader Knockout Ned in City of God and, most famously, as the wild-haired troubadour who crooned Portuguese versions of David Bowie tunes in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But while Aquatic's character set Jorge up as something of an ethnic bemusement -- oh, how droll, the Brazilian chap does our Bow-ie -- the man's own music proves deeper and more beautiful than anything the Thin White Duke has produced in a decade or two.
On Cru, Jorge comes across as something of a favela (Brazilian ghetto) Leonard Cohen, crossing the subtle malaise of bossa nova with the gruff realism of contemporary "favela funk" and a very Cohen-esque sense of dark playfulness. For example, the cover of Lieber and Stoller's hit for Elvis, "Don't," which drags the song's creepy message (no means yes) to the top by filling out tender guitar lines with Jorge's raised-eyebrow delivery and the album's signature left-field chirps. (The origins of Jorge's production sounds appear on a cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Chatterton": favela's gruff vocals and distorted synth basslines, with attendant sounds that could stem originally from Gainsbourg or even New Jersey house.)
But, as its title implies ("raw" in Portuguese), Cru is most often stark and unmitigated by beat or effect. "Bola de Meia (Sock-Filled Ball)" consists of nothing but acoustic guitar and half-spoken vocals, as simple as the improvised courtyard soccer ball it references, yet executed with the cool, dramatic wax-and-wane flourish of a Ronaldinho. Were Cru any more packed with quiet confidence and effortless beauty, Jorge would have his visa revoked on grounds of cultural security.