The course of Brazilian popular music in the latter half of the 20th century can be broadly split into two major overlapping currents. From the late 50s, bossa nova became the dominant genre, fronted by artists like João Gilberto and Nara Leão. But from the mid-’60s, a new genre emerges from artists looking for a more eclectic, extroverted sound. Under the banner of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), musicians like Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque, and Edu Lobo merged bossa nova, rock, samba, jazz, and regional folk music into an expansive genre of their own.
The birth of MPB is often located in a 1965 live performance at a TV Excelsior music competition. The winners of that contest were songwriter Edu Lobo and an expressive young singer named Elis Regina. But long after her rise to fame in the 60s, Regina would once again demonstrate the power of her live performances in a staggering 1978 live album called Transversal Do Tempo.
The recording begins with two stirring ballads. “Fascinação,” originally penned by Italian songwriter Fermo Dante Marchetti, shows Regina’s capacity for both delicate, soft passages, and powerful, operatic crescendos. The following “Sinal Fechado” may be the album’s highlight, a haunting, melancholic rendition of Paulinho da Viola’s composition. The lyrics detail two friends coincidentally meeting at a stoplight and promising to meet in the future. Written at the height of the Brazilian dictatorship, da Viola’s song reflected the alienation of the era. Regina’s rendition retains the sense of disquiet, but adds a romantic undercurrent. Pianist Crispin Del Cistia deserves credit here, backing Regina’s vocals with incredible sensitivity.
After this opening descent into melancholy, we abruptly emerge into a sort of funky prog-rock with “Deus Lhe Pague.” It’s an explosive, surprisingly heavy listen, Regina tapping into a caustic aggression on stage. It’s ironic that Regina was reportedly a perfectionist; here, she is refreshingly raw. After pop balladry and progressive rock, we move into the bossa-nova-infused rhythms of “O Rancho Da Goiabada.” Nonetheless, these familiar tones soon dissolve into uncomfortable discordance before finally emerging into a brief jazz-funk outro. Regina is giving us an unapologetic tour through MPB’s varied influences.
Another highlight comes with a medley of “Meio Termo” and “Corpos.” We start with the gentle tones of Lourenço Baeta’s composition before segueing into a prog-rock interpretation of Ivan Lins’ “Corpos.” The closer, “Cartomante” diverges into poppier territory, ending the show with an energetic crowd-pleaser.
It’s worth diving into Elis Regina’s entire catalog, but Transversal Do Tempo is perhaps the best display of her ability as a performer. And, given its release near the end of MPB’s zenith, Transversal serves as a powerful send-off to an era of exuberant eclecticism.