Os Mutantes: The Best Band You've Probably Never Heard Of

Os Mutantes were one of the most influential rock groups to emerge during the late '60s in Brazil. The band - initially a trio with Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista and his brother Sergio Dias - fell under the graces of the founders of the Tropicalismo movement, Brazil's response to psychedelia.

Mutantes went on to gain national recognition when they participated in the landmark 1968 LP Tropicalia ou Panis et Circensis (Phillips) with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze and Nara Leal, but were lucky enough to escape mostly unscathed from the political persecution that the others suffered from the military dictatorship that took control of the country after a coup in 1964.

The band's initial influence came straight from the likes of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but they also borrowed a lot from the sounds they grew up hearing in Brazil. Their sound incorporated everything from soul, jazz, samba, early funk and other genres, a mish-mash that ultimately became the band's sonic signature.

Os Mutantes went on to have a fruitful career that lasted through numerous lineup changes until the band ultimately broke up in 1978. They remained dormant until the Baptista brothers reformed the band in 2006 sans Rita Lee, who refused to participate in the re-launch.

After a successful U.S. tour, Arnaldo Baptista once again left the group in 2007, leaving his brother to lead the new lineup including founding drummer Dinho Leme. This version released Haih or Amortecedor (Anti) last year.

Over the decades, Os Mutantes influenced numerous contemporary musicians, including the late Kurt Cobain, Beck and David Byrne - who re-released the band's long-deleted albums on his Luaka Bop label, including a live recording of their 2006 reunion show at London's Barbican Theater.

Their influence is also felt in Latin America, where their sound can be felt in the music of groups such as Pato Fu (Brazil). Aterciopelados (Colombia), Café Tacvba (Mexico) and others.

Two of the bands mentioned above are part of El Justiciero Cha Cha Cha; Tribute to Os Mutantes (Nacional), a Latin rock tribute that features some of the timeless tunes created by the band mostly during their 1968-1972 phases.

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Scheduled for release this coming Tuesday, the disc opens with La Manzana Cromatica Protoplasmatica's update to the controversial hit "Ave Lucifer," a stream-of-consciousness tune mostly written by Arnaldo Baptista. Gone are the original 60s backward tapes, which are replaced with more electronic elements that keep the tune as trippy as ever.

"Beija-Me Amor" features Brazil's Arnaldo Antunes sharing the spotlight with Argentina's veteran vocalist Liliana Herrera. Their version sounds like an unlikely blend between bossa nova and tango recorded after few many glasses of wine - but brilliant nevertheless.

Also notable are the title track performed by Argentina's Omar Giammarco, who blends tango and samba with snippets of a George W. Bush speech on terrorism, and Fito Paez's spirited Portuguese-language revamping of "Minha Menina," a funky tune originally recorded by Jorge Ben.

This disc is suitable for longtime fans of Os Mutantes and for those who have yet to discover the wonderful and strange music that this band did during their initial career - and possibly foreshadows their new incarnation.

Os Mutantes performs with Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti 8 p.m. Sunday, November 7, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, 713-862-3838. Tickets are $18.

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