Already a major star in her native Brazil, Marisa Monte again seems primed for a stateside commercial breakthrough on A Great Noise, despite singing nearly all the tunes in Portuguese. Monte's fourth CD consolidates the strengths of her previous three: Eleven of Noise's 18 tracks were recorded in concert, recreating the expansiveness and electricity of her live, self-titled debut. And as on her middle two disks, the producer is Arto Lindsay, who grew up in Brazil and became a New York scenemaker with the Ambitious Lovers and the Knitting Factory crew. Lindsay is the ideal cultural blender, playing exquisite Brazilian musicians such as Waldonys Menezes and Ferando Caneca against funky Americans like Bernie Worrell and Melvin Gibbs. He folds strings, accordion, horns, percussion, and keyboards into layers that ripple rather than jut, melding the sophistication of jazz and the edginess of rhythm & blues with the integrity of Brazilian music's smooth, airy, melodic flow.
Ensconced in this setting, Monte lets her vocals ripen the mood of the tunes a sensual half-step beyond nuance. By turns wistful and beseeching, beguiling and direct, her operatic background and tonal range aren't as important as her rhythmic command: On Lulu Santos's "Tempos Modernos," she gently rocks the hip-sliding beat, then soars into a gentle extended note, landing flush on the groove. On the live rendition of Nando Reis's "Ao Meu Redor," she simultaneously yields to the passion and controls the tempo, fashioning something like a desperate bossa nova, with a rhythmic flair that Sade would die for. Monte can ascend and engage Worrell's buoyant clavinet phrases on Gilberto Gil's "Cerebro Eletronico," or settle into the stark lyricism of an Octavio Paz poem set to her own music. For those who need English, she offers a rendition of George Harrison's "Give Me Love" suffused with grace and delicate swooning. Toss in naughty CD artwork, and Monte just might have an overdue hit on her hands.