Toninho Horta: Portrait in Black and White

Winter blues got you down? Take a sonic sojourn with a recently unearthed gem that summons visions of Rio beaches, swaying palms and steaming rainforests. To mark bossa nova's 50th birthday, George Klabin, founder of Resonance Records, has reissued Toninho Horta's loving tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim. Originally released only in Japan and Brazil, To Jobim With Love had long been a Klabin favorite. In 2007 he was presented with the opportunity to secure the rights to this nearly forgotten recording, and happily did so.

The bossa has been around for decades, but with few exceptions (Charlie Byrd comes to mind) most non- Brazilian artists tend to misinterpret the form's subtle rhythm. This track is the real McCarlos; guitarists aspiring to capture that Brazil vibe could find no greater example than the flawless, pearl-shaped lines Toninho lays down on "Portrait in Black and White," going down smooth as a freshly shaken Caipirinha. The layers of string and flute enhancement are deep but somehow never interfere with the melody's quiet introspection. Horta's breathy vocals and assured, warm guitar work get ample backing from a crack rhythm section and his soaring, dreamy orchestral arrangement. This is a masterful interpretation of Jobim's classic.

February 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Eliane Elias: Chega de Saudade

Bossa nova puts me into a kind of altered state in which perception of time loosens up, as does the attitude. There must be something about those rhythms that provides comfort at a subconscious level. Eliane Elias opens "Chega de Saudade" with her sultry and breathy vocals, accompanied at first by acoustic guitar and percussion. Liftoff is achieved when her piano kicks in, urged on by Marc Johnson's subtle and swinging basslines. It's amazing to me that bossa nova is celebrating a half century as a genre. This song feels like it's been around forever.

January 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Robert Kyle: Favela

On the golden anniversary of the birth of bossa nova, Robert Kyle returns the form to its acoustic origins with, appropriately, a Jobim composition. While Stan Getz's landmark recordings with Charlie Byrd and João Gilberto had relatively light accompaniment, Kyle goes one step farther and constructs his ensemble without a bass or piano. Rather, it's just his sax, Roberto Montero's acoustic guitar and two percussionists.

This setup serves the song well. Montero's brisk guitar work sparkles, providing a perfect bridge between the rhythms and harmony, making the absent bass superfluous. The double percussion puts the proper emphasis on that rhythm. All of which frees up Kyle to color the pretty melody and do so at the leisurely pace that bossa nova is supposed to be about, after all.

Robert Kyle's less-is-more, no-fluff approach makes "Favela" bristle with Brazilian goodness.

December 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Joe Henderson: Blue Bossa

As the title advertises, "Blue Bossa" is bossa nova with blues overtones. An eminently catchy tune (even non-jazz fans recognize it), it's Kenny Dorham's rightful entry into the jazz standards canon. In original form here as the first track from Joe Henderson's debut album, a strong composition is given strong treatment. After the two horn players state the theme in unison, Dorham takes the lead, restating his theme with a succession of rapid-fire tremolos that sound like he's playing his trumpet behind an electric fan. The rest of the way, he stays close to the theme in a clean and relaxed manner. Henderson's ensuing solo introduces his warm tenor from the Sonny Rollins school, finding notes that aren't always obvious but always fit. Foreshadowing his affinity for Antonio Carlos Jobim's music, Tyner already sounds right at home with the Brazilian form. Warren makes his own solo statement concise.

"Blue Bossa" introduced the world to Joe Henderson in fine fashion. This classic piece remains the place to start for discovering the treasure trove of Henderson's body of work.

November 10, 2008 · 1 comment


Milton Nascimento: Chega de Saudade

Most casual fans will find nothing surprising in Milton Nascimento releasing a bossa nova CD, and covering the classic Jobim tune "Chega de Saudade." Yet those with longer memories will recall that Nascimento did more than any musician to topple the supremacy of bossa nova in Brazilian music. Nascimento's rhythmic sensibility, with its hypnotic even eights (which Pat Metheny and others would eventually incorporate into jazz settings), instilled a far more Africanized sensibility into Brazilian music than anything found in the Jobim songbook. Early in Nascimento's career, even when this artist performed bossa nova songs, listeners were struck by how different they sounded in his interpretations.

But all things mellow with age, and now Nascimento not only records "Chega de Saudade" but delivers it with genuine bossa nova feeling. And he brings Jobim's son and grandson in on the festivities. Don't expect any musical revolutions here, just a bittersweet, relaxed tribute to a classic song, a brilliant composer and a timeless style of music. This track, and most of the other performances on the Novas Bossas CD, will stand out as outliers on the bell curve of Milton's music, but fans of Brazilian music will enjoy this release and want to add it to their collection.

October 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Quincy Jones: Soul Bossa Nova

Surprise! The opening theme song to the Austin Powers trilogy wasn't composed specifically for everybody's favorite hairy-chested, mojo-laden international man of mystery. It was actually a Quincy Jones Big Band tune recorded in 1962 and featuring the flutes of Roland Kirk and Jerome Richardson on the now instantly recognizable 5-note theme. Allow this track to serve as a gateway to some of Jones's seriously stylish big band music from the 1960s. Check out "Se E Tarde Me Pardoa" from the Big Band Bossa Nova album and "Days of Wine and Roses," "Dreamsville" and "Moon River" from Quincy Jones Explores the Music of Henry Mancini for more of the Jones Big Band featuring Roland Kirk.

October 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Brazil

There are many places to start with Ary Barroso's wonderful song written about his homeland. All of the essential elements are here: samba, Jobim's vocal and Fender Rhodes, and wonderful percussion work by Airto Moreira. Joao Palm also plays a great rhythm on the drum set, which gives the song its overall drive and sense of direction. Jobim is right at home on this, the most extended song on the album. It's nice to hear him play some different songs. Historically, this album and this song will go down as highlights in the Jobim discography, but will always be neglected gems when compared to his previous efforts, though this writer feels otherwise!

September 19, 2008 · 1 comment


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Children's Games

On this dark waltz, Eumir Deodato's talents as an arranger really shine. He composed wonderful counterpoints for this Brazilian big band and utilizes the flute in ways not really heard on many Jobim albums of the past. The percussion really drives this song, as is the case with most Brazilian music, but also brings out the playfulness of the song title. Built over a simple vamp, Jobim layers some interesting Fender Rhodes sounds at the end of the song. It's a shame this album is so overlooked because songs like this are real gems and display Jobim's diversity as a composer.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Tereza My Love

Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the main architects of Brazilian music, finds himself in great company on this highly underrated album. Accompanied by fellow Brazilian Eumir Deodato, who did all of the arrangements, Jobim wrote this song for his wife, Tereza. It's a very open and free-flowing song that sounds like you should be enjoying the amenities of the beach in Rio De Janeiro. Urbie Green provides a great opening trombone line, and Herbert Laws follows with a flute line that creates an urgent sense of utopia. Ron Carter is also perfectly comfortable playing this light bossa nova.

September 19, 2008 · 0 comments


Stan Getz (featuring Astrud Gilberto): It Might As Well Be Spring

This Rodgers & Hammerstein gem from the 1945 film State Fair has long made the rounds as a jazz standard and receives a beautiful reading here. The leader and Gilberto play off each other right from the top with Getz weaving obbligatos in and out of her fairly straight reading of the melody. Getz plays a fine, though somewhat disjointed solo, which is almost anticlimactic following the lithe intertwining he performs with the singer. Given the light and smoky tone of both Stan and Astrud, the ensemble sounds like the archetypal jazz group laboring away in some bohemian Greenwich Village nightclub. Indeed, the album purports to have been recorded in just such a setting. The problem is, it's not true. The live tapes were deemed unusable by Verve and the band was sent to the studio for retakes. The results were issued with ersatz applause, and—all things being fair in war and the record business—everyone lived happily ever after. Although the liner notes credit guitarist Kenny Burrell as playing on this track, for the life of me I can't hear him (unless he was one of those providing ersatz applause in the studio).

September 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: Entre Amigos (Sympathy Between Friends)

A follow-up to Stan Getz's remarkably successful Jazz Samba album, Big Band Bossa Nova is a frequently inspired partnership between the saxophonist and Gary McFarland. It contains four bossa nova mainstays and four McFarland originals, and the arranger gives Getz room to explore the subtleties of this idiom. "Entre Amigos" is my favorite of the McFarland pieces—an invigorating performance by Getz and an equally "up" ensemble.

July 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Blakey: Pensativa

This is one of my favorite records of all time, and every tune is a classic. I chose this track because it is the most swingin’ bossa nova ever recorded! What a great arrangement and flawless execution from all concerned! Freddie’s solo begins with a declarative statement and is filled with lyricism, and hip notes, the most swingin’ time. I love the way he anticipates the chords, his sense of dynamics, his wonderful ability to hold common tones through chords. There is a Brazilian Portuguese musician-slang word denoting a certain style of playing, Nogento, that doesn’t quite translate well into English…the closest I might come is “Stanky,” and this solo is Nogento like a m.f.!

April 11, 2008 · 1 comment


João Gilberto: Fotografia

Gilberto's importance to bossa nova is well known and his recorded output so vast, one might wonder why this track warrants special attention. First, the composition is among Jobim's lesser-known gems, with his own particularly beautiful lyrics. Second is Gilberto's ability to draw in audiences with the illusion of intimacy, even in a large performance venue. No matter how many of his compatriots might have attended, it is still just about João and his guitar. Lastly is Gilberto's interpretation. By 1994, he had performed this song innumerable times and yet this performance retains a subtle vitality. Most of its propulsion comes from the tension between the insistent rhythmic guitar patterns and the achingly slow, rubato lyrics. This performance is masterful in its simplicity and illustrates the great nuance for which Gilberto was praised throughout his career.

March 07, 2008 · 0 comments


Ahmad Jamal: Wave (1970)

Ahmad Jamal didn’t take part in the bossa nova craze of the early '60s, so it may sound strange that he suddenly tackles a Jobim tune 10 years later. But the Pittsburgh-born pianist doesn’t treat it as a typical Brasilian song at all. The theme appears only after more a minute-long original intro based on a bass ostinato. Then Jamal repeats short parts of the melody, while varying the intensity of his touch, or mixes them with rhythmic vamps. It’s deconstruction at its best, with optimal effect.

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Carl Orr: Deep Down

Normally, English guitarist Carl Orr would be heard playing distortion-laden fusion lines possibly through various devices. Over the years, his progressive playing has been front and center in many exciting ventures. Not the least of these has been on several records and tours with drummer Billy Cobham. But on 2006's Deep Down, Orr decided to reach inside himself to explore some worlds in which distortion was not even an afterthought. Focusing his attention on the basic organ-based jazz trio, Orr featured a purer guitar sound that worked the basic blues and bossa novas. He added musicians as needed.

This track, a dedication to Orr's wife, is a relaxed bossa nova with a pleasing theme. Orr says he was trying to mimic Burt Bacharach's writing style. In any case, Orr's guitar tone is pristine and free from any affectations. His sensitive single-note runs are beautiful. The band maintains a subtle blues vibe with Whittaker in particular adding body to the piece. Orr's dexterous solo is a bit risky considering its context. But this fusion star makes it all work, both on the surface and deep down.

February 23, 2008 · 0 comments


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