DJAVAN ``Bird of Paradise'' (Columbia FC 44276) - Djavan's newest album contains some of his best material to date, notably the jazzy waltz ``Carnaval no Rio,'' the sweetly genteel ``Doidice'' (``Madness''), and the swingy dance number ``Me Leve'' (``Take Me''). Djavan sings in English here for the first time, on three selections. MILTON NASCIMENTO ``Yauaret^e'' (Columbia FC 44277) - Nascimento's latest release is pop-oriented, smooth, jazz-inflected, and a little blander than some of his previous releases. Best cuts are the lazy, languid ``Dream Merchant,'' the funky, fusion title song (which means ``Jaguar''), and the appealing, bluesy ``Meu Mestre Cora,cao'' (``The Heart Is My Master''). Nascimento wrote or co-wrote all the songs.
GILBERTO GIL ``Soy Loco Por Ti America'' (Braziloid BR 4000) - Gil, a long-time favorite in Brazil, sings in Portuguese, English, Spanish, and French on his latest - a potpourri of samba rhythms, rock, and reggae. From the nostalgia of ``Aquele Abra,co'' to the lilting French chanson ``Mardi 10 Mars,'' Gil is at his best.
OBINA SHOK ``Obina Shok'' (Braziloid BR 4001) - The happy sound of this reggae-influenced Afro-Brazilian quartet's debut album is a real joy to listen to. The rhythms and funky horn section are infectious, and the group's harmonized vocals (in Portuguese, French, English, and Gabonese - an African dialect) are irresistible. Obina is an African word for ``the way of the dance,'' and the African influence is strong here, especially on the charming ``Lambar'ene.'' Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa join Obina on two songs.
SANDRA S'A ``Sandra S'a'' (Braziloid BR 4002) - S'a's music falls roughly into the international pop/rock bag - an ``American'' sound, sung in Portuguese. The effect might have been corny, but S'a's husky voice and rough-and-ready delivery, along with some exceptionally pretty ballads, make this a standout effort. S'a is a newcomer to American audiences.
MARIA BETH^ANIA ``Dezembros'' (Braziloid BR 4008) - The arrangements are thin and creaky and the sound muffled on this latest album of one of Brazil's most popular singers. Nevertheless, the cool and detached yet haunting voice of Maria Beth^ania rises above these problems on a collection of songs by her singer/songwriter brother, Caetano Veloso, and by Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque, and others.
HER'OIS DA RESIST^ENCIA ``Her'ois da Resist^encia'' (WEA Import 6106019) - Only the Portuguese lyrics hint that this is anything other than either an American or British rock band. But it doesn't matter. This is ear-bending progressive rock by any cultural definition, harmonically sophisticated, with a slightly quirky edge. Her'ois is currently poised to break into the American market, singing in English.