ALBUM RELEASE 'Brazilian Girls' connects languages and sexualities
Neither the group's one girl nor the other members are from Brazil.
By EVELYN McDONNELL
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Like a character from a Pedro Almodovar or Federico Fellini film, Sabina Sciubba exudes cosmopolitan cool. The singer of the New York-based band Brazilian Girls saunters onto the stage and grooves in the sort of risqu & eacute; outfits that say come hither and get lost, like an elite model commanding a runway or punk-funk diva Grace Jones in her heyday.
Her soprano wraps around words and notes with the barest of tremors and accents. The Eurotrash icon sings in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish, meaning not only is she talented, beautiful, provocative and creative; she's smart, too.
As Antonio Carlos Jobim once wrote of another Brazilian girl, the one from Ipanema: "When she walks she's like a samba that, Swings so cool and sways so gentle, That when she passes each one she passes goes 'a-a-ah.'"
Sciubba, speaking on the phone from the band's publicist's office in New York, shrugs off the allure, too cool to be hot.
"It's just a play type thing, some visual incentive for the dance," she says of her Deborah Harry-esque edgy fashion statements. Sciubba is known for wearing bands over her eyes; on the cover of Brazilian Girls' just-released self-titled album, she's enveloped in a pillowcase of sheer white fabric, her naked body visible beneath. "I like to do something on stage that takes the audience out of the ordinary and makes them feel like they're in some kind of dream world."
Sciubba is the icing on the cake, the front woman and lyricist who pushes Brazilian Girls over the top of perfection. But just as Blondie was a band, so are the Girls: four pedigreed musicians whose sum surpasses its diverse parts.
"Brazilian Girls" is the best debut in a decade, since Missy Elliott, PJ Harvey, Massive Attack and Sleater-Kinney first blew people's minds.
But first, a clarification: Sciubba, born in Rome, raised in Munich and Nice, is the only "girl" member of the dub-trance-jazz-Latin-electronic-lounge-pop quartet. The group's international pedigree is key to their savoir funky: Keyboardist Didi Gutman is from Buenos Aires, bassist, Jesse Murphy from California, drummer Aaron Johnston from Kansas City. But none is Brazilian.
"We came up with it to attract people's attention," says Johnston of the band's moniker. "I'm from the Midwest, and there was a band there called Free Beer and Chicken. It's a little bit of the same aesthetic."
If you come to a Brazilian Girls show expecting to see Gisele Bundchen crossed with Astrud Gilberto, you won't be disappointed by Sciubba.
The album makes clear she's more than eye candy. Brazilian Girls are all seasoned musicians, though they don't talk in details about their past.
"Everyone has a lifelong music lineage," Murphy says. Gutman used to play with a real Brazilian girl, Bebel Gilberto; Murphy and Johnston have worked with John Zorn. They came together at jam sessions at an East Village club, Nublu, the same musical scene that launched a chanteuse named Norah Jones.
"The band came out of this very comfortable and personable environment, where everyone knew each other," Murphy says. "There was zero pressure; it wasn't a formal gig; we didn't have to be a blues or rock band. That allowed us to have a nice, different petri dish."
"It was like 'Cheers;' 'Everybody Knows Your Name,'" Gutman jokes about the Girls' weekly Nublu residency. "It was like going back to kindergarten, so free and loose. It was a nice international community of musicians and artists and drug addicts and writers."
But eventually, the informal sessions started taking on shapes and forms. "This organic, improvisational, trancey dance thing started to have more structure," Murphy says. "We started to bring in ideas that were more concrete."
Those ideas reflected the musicians' diverse backgrounds. "Sabina would bring in a lyric in Spanish, Didi some cumbia, I'd bring in an electro-punk tune," Murphy says. "We could throw anything in the soup because the relationships are so established."
The band is close-knit: Sciubba and Gutman are a couple; Murphy and Johnston roommates. "We all get along really well," Murphy says.
Someone at composer Philip Glass' studio gave the group studio time, saying not to worry about the money. They then signed with noted jazz label Verve.
XBrazilian Girls, 8, Rex Theater, Pittsburgh. (412) 381-6811.