1975: Bola Sete - Ocean

With summertime finally starting to kick in, filling our heads with the sweet taste of morning grass and sun-baked air, let us turn our attention away from the scalding pavement and noisy streets toward cooler, more tranquil waters. Come and bask in one of the freest declarations of bucolic romance ever to emerge from the bespeckled tomes of guitar history: Bola Sete’s wistful and silvery bookmark in the Takoma canon, the resplendent, elemental folk opus that is Ocean. In all my life of hunting down instrumental solo guitar records, all those infinite variations of a simple and single doctrine that at their best can reveal haunting and infinite dimensions to their creators’ outlook and philosophies about the world, Ocean is still one of my regular go-to selections for inciting moments of beauty and reflection where they seem most begged for. For all of its iridescent surface beauty, Ocean manages to plunge into depths that most guitarists never even realize are there.

A Brazilian samba player with a traditional approach to jazz (and a handful of collabs with Vince Guaraldi and Dizzie Gillespie), Bola Sete had already thoroughly established his abilities by the time John Fahey picked him up for a one-off release on his genre-defining Takoma label, yet Ocean brought out a side of Sete not yet seen in his recorded works. Although streams of bossa nova and classical thought course throughout Ocean, more than anything, Sete’s playing emanates an overwhelming richness of existence both tempered and fueled by a dark and mysterious love of the unknown. Sete’s right-hand technique is vigorous, juggling meters that would be dazzling in their complexity were Sete not so adept at making them seem completely effortless. The songs on Ocean are more than a touch melancholy, but rather than descending into desolate weeping, Sete actively engages the emotions in his music, navigating these pieces like a captain steering through heavy waters, confident and aware of what’s at stake.

Eventually reissued through New Age custodians Windham Hill, it’s understandable why Sete’s music so easily slipped into the background even for all its adventurousness. The nylon-stringed poetry of Ocean exists at such a mastery of skill that it never feels like Sete is trying to impress with some kind of dramatic thesis (the same goes for his other late-career masterpiece Jungle Suite, his only other album to tackle this kind of private, impressionistic landscaping). Yet like a great ambient record, Ocean inspires both consciously and subconsciously, slipping in and out of focus before eventually drifting away into the horizon; the fun is in trying to catch Sete as he strums joyously in ode to the rift between our earth and the sky.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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