“Pra ninguem” (“For No One”), the final song on Caetano Veloso’s superb 1998 album, Livro (“Book”), is little more than a series of shout-outs to great Brazilian singers and the songs they sang–“Djavan singing ‘Drao’ / Chico singing ‘Exaltacao a mangueira'”–until the final couplet of each verse, when he warbles, “Better than this there’s only silence / And better than silence only Joao.” That’s Joao as in Gilberto, the granddaddy of bossa nova. Veloso doesn’t mention himself, of course, but if any other singer were to reimagine the song, he or she might easily pay him the ultimate tribute instead: in his remarkable career Veloso, now 56, has produced more than 30 albums, and while not all have been great, most are remarkably good. His consistency is all the more amazing given his adventurousness: he’s claimed for his own not only bossa nova and samba but also psychedelia, funk, reggae, Afro-pop, rai, and any number of combinations thereof. His range is also evident on the new Japanese collection Singles (Philips), which spans the years 1968-’81, and Livro alone can leap from something like the gorgeous, string-laden “Manhata,” a ballad about New York City that embraces its paradoxes (“Ah! Solitude, multitude”), to the discordant, rhythmically relentless “Doideca” (roughly, “Loony”), with its cryptic refrain “Gay Chicago black German.” By the time most pop artists reach Veloso’s age, if they haven’t retired they’re either milking their hits on the oldies circuit or embarrassing themselves trying to keep up with the kids. Veloso has escaped these sinkholes by putting artistry over popularity, although in the process he’s become a hero in Brazil. This performance is his long overdue Chicago debut–he’s been touring the world for more than a year now with a two-hour set that mixes tunes from Livro with old ones and spoken passages from his memoir Verdade Tropical, to be published in English later this year by Knopf. The new live release Prenda Minha (“My Gift”), on Mercury Brazil, suggests it could be the show of the year. Tuesday, 8 PM, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Livio Campos.