MORENO VELOSO +2, at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Wednesday (March 28). $15. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
even 5,000 miles away, on a stage- ticky telephone line from Rio, the trickster in Moreno Veloso shines through.The 27-year-old Brazilian singer/songwriter is trying to explain why, with a glowing career in cryogenic physics well underway, he decided to hang up his lab coat and become a musician, when he starts to giggle.
"I was just trying to study physics," he declares in an exaggeratedly exasperated tone, his voice cracking only slightly. "But I think I'm a little dumb for that." The laughter gets louder now, practically filling up the phone line. "So I became a musician."
Veloso can afford to joke around. Even if he couldn't sing like a sparrow and write elegant, wildly experimental pop music, Veloso would be a musician. There is no question.
He's practically Brazilian music royalty, the son of famed poet and songwriter Caetano Veloso, who, 35 years ago, alongside Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Os Mutantes, destabilized Brazilian popular music, or MPB, with the radical, open-ended art movement Tropicalia (see sidebar).
The younger Veloso's been playing music for 24 years, primarily touring with his father as well as Gil and Bahian percussionist Carlinhos Brown. The passing of the Brazilian songwriting crown from father to son would seem obvious, then, but ever the scientist, Veloso takes nothing for granted.
His sublime new Music Typewriter disc is an assured and adventurous debut, riddled with sonic wit, matching surrealist lyrics with almost cartoonish pop soundscapes and some disarmingly sweet acoustic melodies.
Veloso is pleased with the record but gleefully admits that he had no idea it was coming or where it was going. He prefers to remain a reluctant musician who jokes, with a hint of seriousness, that if he's lucky he'll get the chance to go back and work in his Rio lab.
"My father used to sing with me from age three," he says from his Rio de Janeiro studios, while a cello moans in the background. "We started to play guitar when I was nine, and around the same year I wrote my first song with him. After that I learned percussion, then cello, then other instruments.
"I never wanted to be a musician, though. I was in a couple of my friends' bands, but we just played for joy."
It might have been for fun, but the fooling around Veloso did with friends like percussionist Domenico and bassist Kassin -- who would become Veloso's band Moreno +2 -- also gave early indications of what he would later go on to do for real.
"We played experimental rock," Veloso remembers. "We are all friends of Arto Lindsay, so we tried to emulate his music as well as stuff like John Zorn, Björk and Cornelius.
"I was studying physics, but at the same time I was helping a friend build a home studio. Slowly, the studio started to grow and we began making soundtracks for television, commercials and theatre. We would do crazy background music, one minute or less, playing solo cello or 10-string guitar or sound effects.
"I began to work with music every day -- in other words, I became a musician -- and I discovered something within myself, my own musical personality. I liked that."
That voice is still taking shape, yet even now it's impossible to discount the influence of his father on Veloso's already unique sound. The musical voice of Caetano Veloso is obvious on Music Typewriter not so much in the songs as in the way the younger Veloso approaches music.
Tropicalia was always culturally cannibalistic, and its artists would absorb every possible influence, from traditional folk songs and doo-wop to psychedelia and the Brazilian national anthem, and then spit out something new synthesized from that.
Veloso has inherited his father's intense sense of musical freedom. Music Typewriter veers from samba and bossa nova to funk and romantic ballads, often within the same song.
"My father never pushed me to do music or play guitar," Veloso insists. "He only taught me a general love for music, and I think I've learned this love. It's about finding something special in every type of music."
Beyond his father, Veloso seems supremely influenced by another Tropicalismo agitator, sonic pirate Tom Zé.
Zé pried open the parameters of Brazilian music even further by merging his tool shed with his guitar rack. Belt sanders and electric saws became musical instruments in his challenging music, much the same way Veloso uses bed springs, sandpaper, toy xylophones and the sound of a table tennis match as percussion.
"We like the old way of doing experimental music," he confirms. "It's organic. We look for the simple way of making sounds.
"I love machines and computers, but there are also these other things, natural things to make music with. We shouldn't be limited."
It's a fresh approach that's become common among the second and third generation of MPB musicians. While Caetano Veloso and his Tropicalia gang were driven underground and into exile in the late 60s for radically reconfiguring the face of Brazilian music, experimentation is expected now from younger musicians.
The towering tradition of Brazilian song still exists, but alongside it thrives a new crop of musicians like Veloso, Bebel Gilberto, guitarist Vinicius Cantuaria and transplanted producer Suba who push the music into the present by instilling beats in their bossa.
"In Brazil we know the tradition, but we also have this love for experimentation," Veloso offers. "We like the traditional Brazilian way to play songs, but it can't be separated from the experimental nature of our minds.
"We're just playing our role in the evolution of Brazilian music. Brazilian music is always changing. It changed after my father and his friends, and then after Chico Science and then after Sepultura. It moves forward, and we can do nothing to stop it."
(Polygram) The movement's state-of-the-union address, a remarkable compilation album featuring tracks from all the major Tropicalia stars plus a reinterpretation of the Brazilian national anthem.1967 (Polygram) The crucial solo debut by Tropicalia's main man -- folky and psychedelic, old and new.(Omplatten) The Brazilian response to Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds. A psychedelic masterpiece, as tuneful as it is absurd.Fabrication Defect (Luaka Bop) Sound poet Zé was allegedly brought to tears by the musical sound of a belt sander. He's the one Tropicalista who has retained his radical roots, and this 1998 disc is a modern Tropicalia classic.