Stan Getz (with João Gilberto): Desafinado

Getz's 1962 recording of this composition set the bossa nova craze in motion. But I prefer this 1964 version, hands down, with its authentic Brazilian rhythm section. Authentic? Perhaps historic is a better adjective. João Gilberto invented the bossa beat, and remains its greatest exponent even after a million other guitarists have tinkered with, adapted and outright stolen his stuff. And what could be better than having the composer on piano?

Getz, for his part, makes his contribution sound so free and easy, that it's easy to under-estimate his artistry; even he made light of his achievement—introducing this song in concert as "Dis Here Finado" (an coy allusion to the funky hard bop tunes "Dat Dere" and "Dis Here"), or joking that it was the tune that would put his children through college. But can you imagine another jazz tenorist of the era who could have played this music with such perfect sensitivity to its nuances and inner emotional life? Let 'Trane have his "Giant Steps" and Rollins his late night bridge heroics; ah, but beachfront property never loses it value, and there is a stretch of it down Copacabana and Ipanema way that Getz will always own.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Dylan van der Schyff, Chris Gestrin, Ben Monder: The Distance

Chris Gestrin plays an attractive Bill-Evans-out-of-Keith-Jarrett piano on "The Distance," complemented nicely by his like-minded confreres, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. The performance bears a quiet, pastoral quality, thanks to Gestrin's gentle, romantic melodicism, Monder's clean, round tones, and van der Schyff's light, brush-laden touchto say nothing of the tune itself, with its profoundly consonant harmonies and bossa-ish rhythmic foundation. The music has a solemn, ECM-ish vibe: pretty but not too pretty; challenging but not intimidating. Elsewhere, the musicians prove themselves well capable of creative abstraction; here, however, they indulge their more conventionally lyrical side, with some success.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Fred Hersch: Insensatez

If a young pianist asked my advice about recording a solo album of Jobim tunes, I would strongly suggest the choice of any other composerScriabin, Zez Confrey, Billy Joelin lieu of one more painful bossa nova nostalgia trip. Don't get me wrong, I am one of Mr. Jobim's most devoted fans, and he makes it into my short list of the five greatest songwriters of the 20th century. But his music has been butchered by so many cocktail pianists, wedding reception bands, and maple-syrup-in-their-veins arrangers that it is almost impossible to approach his songs with fresh ears any more. I remember living in Firenze years ago and trying to imagine what Ghiberti's doors to the Baptistry might like if you removed all the accumulated soot, tarnish and gunk. Jobim's songs are the same, but it would take a master to find the pristine beauty below the layers of noise piled atop them.

Fred Hersch is that master. Here he tackles one of the more familiar Jobim songs (often recorded under its English title "How Insensitive") and unearths the saudade below all the sludge. He brings to bear on this song his acute analytical mind, but while still retaining the emotional temperature of this melancholy reminiscence of a love affair gone bad. There is much to admire here: the harmonic movement, Mr. Hersch's touch, his phrasing. But the holistic effect (as so often is the case with Hersch) is more powerful than a mere list of ingredients can evoke. Any pianist who wants to study how an artist of depth salvages an over-played song should check out this CD, and this track in particular.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz & João Gilberto: Doralice

While familiar, "Doralice" still sounds fresh today. This version, recorded for the seminal jazz album Getz/Gilberto, features straight ahead guitar chords, an understated atmosphere, and warmth that sounds carefully plotted out.

The musicians create a lot of space and their contributions remain equally important to the mix. Once Stan Getz's no-frills sax solo winds down, it trades places with Gilberto's vocals, and both sing out in a similar manner. Instruments are panned hard left and right, and the track was rendered in the best light possible due to the multifaceted talents of each participant. It is a session of international repute, and you are immediately aware of its importance from the moment the cut kicks in because of the familiarity of the players with each other's skills.

Even if you do not understand a word of Spanish, you will feel as if you are able to follow the lyrics and message, and the warm, romantic sensitivity that the players convey is the reason for the track's approachability. It is a standout cut on one of the most important Latin jazz albums of all time, and it effectively symbolizes what else occurs within the grooves of the Stone Flower CD.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Antonio Carlos Jobim: God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun

Atypical experimentalism rules Antonio Carlos Jobim's "God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun." The hippie-minded expansiveness mirrors most of the commercial music of the period and even some of the less commercial ruminations by cult artists like Soft Machine.

While Jobim is better known as a purveyor of Bossa Nova, this track could easily be mistaken for either Jefferson Airplane's "Chushingura" (from Crown of Creation) or anything by saxophonist Rashaan Roland Kirk, for there isn't a Brazilian bone in this composition's body. Easily classified as avant-garde, the tune finds some big-band flavor in its instrumental choices that include a clarinet that sounds more indebted to John Coltrane than Benny Goodman. Ravi Shankar-like sitar swirls push the cut in the direction of Indian raga, while the tune is completely psychedelicized in a stereotypical fashion that typifies most of what was released in the jazz world immediately following Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.

At best, the track expands Jobim's musical palette slightly, but it will be fairly obvious to anyone that the spiritual mantra sounds much less original than what the producers intended. This track ultimately struggles to develop an identity of its own, settling for a foray not into the land of the sun but into the finality of diminishing returns.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Andorinha

"Andorinha" sounds like most Jobim from the era, complete with a few added musical features. The electric keyboards are phased out so heavily for the first minute that it is tough to suss out exactly what is being played. However, trombonist Urbie Green appears amidst the lush density of the string section, and the electric piano, while distorted, plays some lovely romantic figures while expressing an interest in musical modernity.

The amount of gain on Jobim's keyboard sounds similar to what was used on the Herbie Hancock recording Crossings-meaning that the same industry standards sweeten this track that were prevalent throughout most music cut in 1970. The influence of albums such as Miles in the Sky and Files de Kilimanjaro dominates, and, even though this music is in no way as adventurous as what was laid down on those classic platters, the production choices prove that Jobim and his compatriots were, at least, digesting their contents.

Once the initial delay effects are spaced out somewhat, Green is allowed to chime in with his usual laid-backness. However, the track is lazily brought to a close, petering out in the second half. Given the crypticness of the initial portion, the tune falls short of its goal of bringing Bossa Nova to the moon.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Sons Of Brazil: Bala Con Bala

As improbable as it may seem, there is a bona fide connection between these Kansas City players and the birthplace of the bossa nova and the samba. Guitarist Danny Embry used to play with Sergio Mendes; percussionist Doug Auwarter makes frequent trips to Brazil, where he performs and teaches. Those factors and the groups obvious dedication to the unique rhythms, textures and dynamics that are hallmarks of Brazilian music should sufficiently dispel any reservation on the part of Latin music aficionados.

There is plenty of ear-pleasing solo work in this piece and an interesting opening dialogue between the piano and guitar- but the main attraction of this lively samba is the authentic feel and pulse, which should have you dancing navel-to-navel in a heartbeat. Toto, were definitely not in Kansas, anymore.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: Menina Moca

Menina Moca (Young Lady) is a warm, semi-sweet samba confection recorded during the crest of the Brazilian jazz wave. In these sessions with the late guitarist Laurindo Almeida, Stan Getz takes it back to the roots.

As heady and substantive as the solo work is on this track, virtuosity is nearly upstaged by the ensembles raw, earthy rhythm, one of the many delights of this collaboration. But make no mistake, Getz rises above it all with finely crafted, husky tenor lines woven over Almeidas raw, slightly out-of tune acoustic guitar work and the ensembles deceptively subtle percussion. The result is a tantalizing juxtaposition of urban sophistication and near-endemic naturalism which works far better than many of the more commercially appealing efforts released at the height of the bossa and samba craze. If your library was somehow limited to just one Brazilian jazz album from this period, you couldnt go wrong with this unpolished, precious gem.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Frank Zappa: Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

Although Frank Zappa is known for his acerbic comments about jazz, its interesting to note that when he made his very first excursion into a legitimate recording studio, the result was a piece of bona-fide jazz. And, at only 351, its a little gem. This is the original, instrumental version of a song that later appeared on the album Were Only In It For The Money: here it appears as a sprightly bossa nova, a year before Stan Getz made the form popular. Zappa assembled a group of musicians who were unknown at this time, but, nevertheless, they acquit themselves well. Trumpeter Chuck Foster makes a clean, arresting statement which reveals the influences of Clifford Brown and Kenny Dorham, while altoist Tony Rodriquenz is excitingly reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley and Phil Woods. Danny Helferins piano style is somewhat like that of Jack Wilson, his West Coast contemporary, and Frank Zappas rhythm playing is perfect for the music, which fits right in with other jazz that was happening on the West Coast in the early 1960s: funky, soulful music played by people like Les McCann, Curtis Amy and the Jazz Crusaders. This track plays a significant but little-recognized part in Zappas oeuvre, and points the way to later jazz influences in his work.

July 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Joo Gilberto: Chega de Saudade

It seemed the whole nation of Brazil got involved in celebrating the recent 50th anniversary of bossa nova. And much of the rest of the world joined in on the festivities. It's a shame that no one thought to make the music available on CD. Some bureaucratic-legal black hole keeps the landmark 1958-1961 Joo Gilberto trackswhich literally represent the birth of the bossa novaoff the market. But I was fortune to secure a copy before the music gestapo showed up to stop the fun.

If you ever find a CD of the early Joo Gilberto recordings, grab it. I love this music passionately, even given all the unnecessary accompaniment that Jobim brought along to "package" his phenomenal find. No oneI repeat no onehas ever sung with more a relaxed, conversational style. Miles Davis (who rarely paid idle compliments) said it best: Joo "would sound good reading a phone book." Gilberto's guitar beat has proven to be as influential as his vocal style, and harder to imitate than you might guess from listening to its carefree pulse. The cool aesthetic in music may have been invented in the U.S., but Jobim and Gilberto brought a new twist on it that taught the Yankees a thing or two. Four years would elapse before the U.S. market discovered this sound, but when they found it, they didn't need to know a word of Portuguese to realize that something special had been hatching down in Rio.

May 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66: Pretty World

"Pretty World" is a light, upbeat bossa nova utilizing musical orchestration that still stands as a firm symbol of the era in which it was created. The tune is built around the 60s cocktail jazz sound, with vocalist Lani Hall crooning at the lounge and everyone else riding the lazy hi-hat downbeat amidst lyrics calling for making "breakfast and love." The influence of Herb Alpert is all over this track in the sense that the formula is ultimately the same one that Alpert's Tijuana Brass (and other A&M jazz artists, for that matter) mined towards commercial success. Even though the message could be considered dated, the composition is ace, and the tune was obviously ready for mass consumption from the beginning due to the strength of its hook, its outstanding chorus (featuring some of Hall's most precise vocals), and a clear concept that never steps outside the box that it constructs for itself.

May 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Gabriela Anders: Agua de Beber

So many great singers have recorded Jobim that you have to wonder why his compositions keep getting additional covers. The popular "Agua de Beber" is a prime example: after interpretations by Ella, Sinatra, Charlie Byrd, Al Jarreau, Toninho Horta, and of course Astrud Gilberto (with Jobim), what could possibly remain unstated? Yet this version by the lovely Gabriela Anders deserves attention, if only for the mesmerizing quality of her voice, a pastel palette of blues and greens, applied with the subtle brushstroke of a master impressionist painter.

As befitting the gentle form of the Bossa Nova, Anders allows the melody to beckon through quiet whispers and a soft vocal percussiveness. There is no big event here, no radical new twists other than a subtle cry-baby guitar in the rhythm section. But the result is an inviting waterfall in the midst of a steaming rainforest, with the players providing a polished foundation over which Gabriela's quenching phrases cascade. This is indeed very cool water to drink.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments


Gabriela Anders: Amapola

Those fortunate enough to have caught Rick Braun and George Duke at the 2008 Montreux Jazz Festival received a bonus: the stunning Gabriela Anders. The rest of us will have to wait for another time to catch her live, and meanwhile must content ourselves with her recordings. Often compared to Sade and Astrud Gilberto, this Argentine native has forged her own identity with four previous albums under her belt, Last Tango in Rio, Latina, Electica and Wanting. But this is her first release devoted solely (or perhaps soul-ly) to the Bossa, which may be the genre she was born to sing.

"Amapola," a timeless Latin classic written in 1924, hasn't always enjoyed such a respectful, soothing treatment. Tommy Dorsey, The Three Tenors, Andrea Bocelli, and incredibly Spike Jones have all recorded their unique versions.

Fortunately, this is a satisfying, simple acoustic guitar-oriented bossa treatment, and works perfectly for the delectable timbre of Anders's intimate, cooling voice. Pianist Helio Aves offers up a simple, airy octave solo in counterpoint to the breathy seductiveness of the vocal lines. The result is hypnotic, not unlike the poppy flower for which the song was named. The same could be said for Gabriela Anders, an amapola in her own right.

March 19, 2009 · 0 comments


Akousma: Live Again

Boston's Berklee School has long been a melting pot for the world's budding jazz musicians and a frequent bellwether for coming trends. One of its most recent products is this eclectic international confederation of talented players from, respectively, Switzerland, Greece, Japan, and Cyprus. While their debut album breaks no theoretical ground, it does show a glimpse of greater things to come.

"Live Again" is a plaintive, wistful bossa eschewing the more familiar sax or flute in favor of the velvet, flowing timbre of Linus Wyrsch's clarinet. Satisfying, laid-back improvisations by bassist Hiro Sakaba and guitarist Stavros Kartakis fit comfortably over an open, minimalist Latin feel. But it's the clarinet that stands out. With a depth of feeling that belies his disciplined classical technique, Wyrsch demonstrates why it's past time for this expressive but long-overlooked instrument to return to the fore.

All things considered, Akousma (presumably named after a Pythagorean precept) aptly illustrates the transcendent language of jazz and the universality of its elements in a rapidly shrinking global community.

February 21, 2009 · 0 comments


Bill Barron: One Hand, One Heart

Crazes, like politics, can make for strange bedfellows. Put the early '60s craving for jazz versions of musicals together with the strange phenomenon of all things bossa nova, and you just might wind up with something neither fresh nor foul, like this series of 3-minute miss-takes. West Side Story Bossa Nova? Pshaw! There's nothing "boss" or new about smothering 10 show tunes in scratchy samba sounds, even if played by Kenny Burrell, Steve Kuhn, Henry Grimes and Charlie Persip, plus a Brazilian percussionist. The reductive results still sound like a skip-the-rehearsal, jam-it-fast release on some sub-Prestige label, but lacking the fiery players needed to make that approach work. Tenorman Barron blows hard in his solos, but everyone else sounds both frantic and bored. (They got an awful lot o' caffeine in Brazil.)

Maybe I exaggerate. The players are pros of course, and Bernstein's tunes are mostly indestructible. But trying to slather quasi-Brazilian rhythms over and under them well, bring back Bonfa and gimme Getz! Take the Barron version of "One Hand, One Heart" (please!); slightly radical to hear that plaintive ballad turned into a loud dance number points for Chutzpah? grounds for Capoeira? which initially respects Bernstein's rising/falling counterpoint (as a trumpet/sax duo), albeit over an unsubtle, scratch-that-itch beat. The Barron arrangement next offers a busy tenor solo, then a more inventive one keyed by pianist Kuhn. More counterpoint attends the finale and then relief. From this album de uma nota s, one melody has emerged unscathed.

February 13, 2009 · 0 comments


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