Sessa’s Grandeza arrived on a warm and gentle tropical breeze, trailed by a thunderstorm. On his 2019 debut album, the Sao Paolo singer/songwriter (née Sergio Sayeg) crafted sparse, hypnotic songs built from simple elements—mostly just nylon string guitar and voice, sometimes just acoustic bass—bringing to the modern era a uniquely Brazilian kind of sound steeped in samba and tropicália. But in its most idiosyncratic moments, Sessa’s charismatic serenity would end up interrupted, in the best way, by an exclamatory eruption of horns on “Sangue Bom,” or a left-field turn into free-jazz on “Tonto.” It’s easy to give yourself over completely to music so softly and gorgeously charming, but every now and then, Sessa takes a left-field turn into wilder terrain, so as not to let its subtle graces fade into the background.
On Estrela Acesa, his second album and first to be released through Mexican Summer, Sessa enriches his mesmerizing folk tropicália with layers of strings and more fully fleshed out arrangements while mostly doing away with some of his most playfully strange arrangements. Yet in beginning from such a stark canvas, he allows the subtlest of changes to make the most significant impact. “Músic,” which is indeed a song about music, is built primarily around bass and hand percussion grooves, so when Sessa’s guitar arpeggios ultimately begin to wrap their way around the bassline, it feels like an unusually full and dynamic jam session. Intoxicating string arrangements steal the show on “Helena” and “Sereia Sentimental,” and there’s an almost Gainsbourg-ian cinema funk underscoring the grandeur of “Dor Fodida.”
Though Sessa’s crafted more intricate arrangements and employed a greater degree of entrancing slow-burn reveal on this batch of 12 songs, there remains a lyrical simplicity in his Portuguese-sung expressions of desire and a search for solace. In the opening samba pulse of “Gostar do Mundo,” that solace comes in the form of another’s body (“Come love me/You know the world will end“). On the gorgeous, trance-like psychedelia of “Cançao de Cura,” it comes in the form of music itself (“Come, oh song of healing/of crashed loves/of these wounded bodies“). There’s a sense of trying to touch the intangible throughout Estrela Acesa, which translates to “burning star,” its suitably cosmic sound providing a guiding light as Sessa feels his way closer to epiphany.
The mystery prevails, but Sessa finds his own truth on a quest for the divine. On the brief penultimate track “Você é a Musica,” his chorus of backing singers repeat a mantra that translates to “You are music, you are music, don’t let ’em tell you otherwise.” It’s a simple affirmation of love and gentility, an endearing sentiment among a set of songs that offer no such promise of easy answers, but a surplus of beautiful sound.
Label: Mexican Summer
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.