John McLaughlin: Manha De Carnaval

McLaughlin has been playing the Brazilian standard "Manha De Carnaval," sometimes called "Black Orpheus" because of the movie it came from, since at least 1980 when he performed it in trio with Larry Coryell and Paco De Lucia. This is a duet with Al Di Meola. John is the stronger lyrical player even though you would tend to think any Latin music would be more of Di Meola's bailiwick. The tune's sad but optimistic melody is the perfect canvas for McLaughlin to paint washes of nuance.

January 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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João Gilberto: Bim Bom

While Jobim’s is the name most people associate with bossa nova, he himself attributed its creation to João Gilberto. Gilberto’s approach represents a clear break from the comparatively unsophisticated samba tradition. His style, which remains unique and instantly identifiable, is composed of his soft, smooth voice, with its signature lack of vibrato; his graceful rhythm guitar; and his impeccable time, which enables him to tinker with phrasing without sacrificing any swing. Essentially a one-man band, Gilberto’s singular artistry makes the bass and drums nearly superfluous on his playful little tune.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Herbie Mann: Consolação

Herbie Mann was on that 1961 State Department tour that was just supposed to bring American jazz to Brazil; instead, it brought bossa nova back to North America. Mann soon returned to Rio to make an album, and recorded this track with its composer, guitarist Baden Powell de Aquino. Incongruously named after the British founder of the Boy Scouts, Baden Powell mixed indigenous Brazilian rhythms with elements of jazz and Django. His signature sound is dark and mysterious, which fits this hypnotic composition perfectly. Mann soars over the extended chorus, making it the longest track on the record.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Diana Krall: S'Wonderful (studio version, 2001)

I once thought that all the great bossa nova singers were from Brazil, but Krall has forced me to alter my opinion. Thirty years ago, João Gilberto recorded this same Gershwin standard adapted to the bossa beat (also with a Claus Ogerman arrangement), but Krall's version can proudly stand alongside this esteemed predecessor. Yet Krall never stoops to imitate, and she makes this song her own. When they write the textbook on relaxed singing, this should be included on the companion CD.

November 18, 2007 · 1 comment

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Hubert Laws: Muchacha Extraña

As a recording artist, Hubert Laws has amassed an extraordinary body of dreck. Is there another jazzman considered the most accomplished ever on his chosen instrument whose output less justifies said claim? Laws cannot be solely blamed for the 1970s, but he played a big part. In 2002, however, revisiting "Strange Girl" from Flute By-Laws (1965), Laws showed with a simple, born-again bossa nova how far both he and jazz have come. When this lovely, wistful track concludes, he remarks, "That's the one." No argument. The only thing Extraña about Hubert's Muchacha is how long it took her to arrive.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Only Trust Your Heart

A leading Lester Young-influenced tenor saxophonist during the 1950s, Stan Getz’s career had begun to falter before he discovered the Brazilian bossa nova. He made several records in the genre, including some that became hits and revived his career. On this track, Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto’s charmingly accented, vibrato-less voice caresses Benny Carter’s lovely “Only Trust Your Heart,” accompanied by a soft-toned Getz and a rhythm section that substitutes the attractive sound of Gary Burton’s vibraphone for the piano. Getz inserts a typically melodic, emotion-laden improvisation in the middle.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Desafinado

“Desafinado” first appeared on the 1962 Jazz Samba album that launched the bossa nova craze and stayed on the charts for 70 weeks. The song was created to mock the off-key singers in Rio (“Desafinado” means “out of tune”), but its famous blue note made it jazz. Like the album, the single became a massive hit, and brought Stan Getz a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance. Getz swings hard over Charlie Byrd’s insistent rhythm, while maintaining a sexy tropical feel. Always elegant and fresh, this remains the definitive version of the tune.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Corcovado

What do Perry Como, Miles Davis, and James Galway have in common? They’ve all covered Jobim’s “Corcovado” -- only “Ipanema” and “One Note Samba” have been recorded more often. This version features the exquisite blending of Astrud and Joao Gilberto, Stan Getz and Jobim on a sensuous melody. This winning formula, repeated throughout the LP, kept Getz/Gilberto on the charts for 96 weeks; nearly 40 years later, the album entered the Grammy Hall of Fame. Also known as “Quiet Nights,” this track was the epitome of relaxed bossa nova cool.

November 05, 2007 · 1 comment

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Astrud Gilberto & Walter Wanderley: So Nice

How do you say "turkey" in Portuguese? That's easy: Astrud Gilberto. Bossa nova's answer to Mrs. Miller, the campy suburban Los Angeles matron who graced mid-'60s pop charts with timely but gloriously awful covers of favorites such as Petula Clark's "Downtown." Here, to invoke a chewing-gum commercial of that era, we "double our pleasure, double our fun" by pairing off-key Astrud with Walter Wanderley's cheesy cocktail-lounge organ. And the hits just keep on coming. We must admit, though, this track would make an ideal soundtrack for a time-capsule video of the Swinging Sixties directed by Federico Fellini. Ciao, Marcello!

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Two Note Samba

This album was recorded about a year after the phenomenal Jazz Samba in an obvious attempt to make lightning strike twice. It didn’t. Reasons include the rather mournful voice of Maria Toledo on six of ten tracks, which suffers in comparison with the light breathiness of Astrud Gilberto (who had become the bossa nova standard). The title “Two Note Samba” may amuse anyone who knows Jobim’s “One Note Samba,” but despite a bridge that makes a clear parallel to the original, Bonfa’s melody lacks the same wit, interest and staying power. Not even Getz’s tenor can make it memorable.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Chega de Saudade

This melody swings through a series of upward shifts, conveying optimism and hope. In the original lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, Jobim’s poet partner, the singer has had enough of “saudade” (sa-oo-DA-dgee), that idiomatic mix of emptiness and longing that roughly equates to “the blues” in English. This was the first Jobim tune that João Gilberto ever recorded, and the title of his 1959 debut album; for many, “Chega de Saudade” marks the true beginning of bossa nova. This instrumental version features Claus Ogerman’s string arrangements; never soppy or overbearing, they provide a lush cushion for Jobim’s one-finger piano.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Meditation

This Verve album, Jobim’s first as leader, was quickly assembled to capitalize on the meteoric success of “Girl from Ipanema” and “Desafinado.” “Meditation” is a simple but nicely balanced tune; covered by talents as disparate as Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, and Dexter Gordon and Paul Horn, it long ago moved out of the novelty bossa nova category into designation as a jazz standard. In fact, of the dozen songs on this album, probably ten have achieved that status, forming the core group of Jobim classics. The instrumentation here, especially Jimmy Cleveland’s trombone, is particularly expressive.

October 30, 2007 · 2 comments

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Herbie Mann: One Note Samba

Aside from the cleverness of a tune “built upon a single note,” this song is notable as one of the few for which Jobim wrote both the music and the English lyrics. He often disliked the translations made from the original Portuguese, and reportedly studied English in order to block the worst of them. Jobim’s homespun singing is more endearing here than usual, since his accent often teeters on Noo Yawkian, but his scatting is seriously jazzy. This might be the best version of “One Note Samba” he ever made, with Herbie Mann providing sweet support.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: Insensatez (How Insensitive)

This track is the gleaming gem of an otherwise lackluster album. One of Jobim’s most recorded compositions, this “Insensatez” has a lugubrious Portuguese vocal by Maria Toledo that is saved by Stan Getz’s background commentary. Getz’s solo is dynamic, building to a passionate wailing, while Jobim’s eloquent piano is simplicity itself. The legend goes that since Jobim’s hands were too small to comfortably span an octave, he avoided intricate chording and developed his signature one-fingered style of improvisation. Whatever its origins, this technique makes him the Basie of bossa nova.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz: The Girl from Ipanema

The bouncy “Girl from Ipanema” is Jobim’s most universally recognized composition; one of the most recorded tunes of all time, it’s also been Muzaked deeply into the public mind. The vinyl debut of “Ipanema” features vocals by both Joao Gilberto and his then-wife, Astrud; Joao’s two-minute part was edited out of the hit single, while Astrud’s girlish, amateur vocal catapulted her into a career. This version sounds less dated than the one Jobim would soon record with strings (on his first album as leader), but too many bad performances have dulled the original sheen of this tune.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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