The Gentle Wave of Bossa Nova Rolls On
As the first title below makes clear, the impact of Brazilian music has stretched through three decades. “Black Orpheus,” the Academy Award winning film, yielded “Samba de Orfeu,” among other hits, in 1959. Three years later the Charlie Byrd-Stan Getz LP “Jazz Samba” triggered the U.S. bossa nova explosion.
A new generation of composers/performers (Ivan Lins, Djavan), aided by the involvement of Manhattan Transfer, has expanded the scope and character of the music, yet in its pristine form it remains unspoiled and unforgotten. The reviews below cover products of two generations and some that straddle both.
“BOSSA NOVA: TRINTA ANOS DEPOIS.” Philips 826-870-1. “Thirty Years Later,” says the title, though most of these cuts were cut in the 1960s and ‘70s. This splendid anthology takes in “Desafinado” (sung by Gal Costa), “Corcovado,” “Triste,” “Rio,” along with “Garota de Ipanema” played and sung by Sergio Mendes. A. C. Jobim is here, playing his own “Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)” and singing, in a delicious duet with Elis Regina, his memorable “Aguas de Marco (Waters of March).” The backup groups are modest: guitars, flutes, strings, vibes, an accordion. Aside from two instrumentals, all are sung in Portuguese. The lyrics are reprinted in that language but not, alas, translated. Still, it is better to let the gentle wave of Brazilian words and rhythms wash over you than suffer an assault on the ears by an American pop group singing half-literate English lyrics. 4 1/2 stars.
“SO NAO TOCA QUEM, NAO QUER.” Hermeto Pascoal. Capitol/Intuition C1 90559. Translated: If you don’t want it, you can’t do it. Pascoal, the mystery man of Sao Paulo, wears a dozen hats here: composer, arranger, piano, percussion, vocals, button accordion, fluegelhorn, baritone flute, bandola, clavinet, harmonium, carviola. Weird noises, strange voices, eerie instrumentals, wordless vocals, Portuguese narrations, odd melodies (some inaccessible, a few quite charming) add up to a rhythmic olla podrida (pardon my Spanish) diverse enough to be worth investigating. 3 1/2 stars.
“YAUARETE.” Milton Nascimento. Columbia CK 44277. Why all the fuss about this man? His voice has energy but no appealing warmth, lacking the low-key charm that marked Jobim and other early Brazilians. “Dream Merchant” has more of a 1950s Cuban beat, with a twist of rock; only in a love song like “Heart Is My Master” or “Songs and Moments” does the true Rio flavor peek through. The bloated backing--many strings, the UAKTI group, voices--only adds to a sense of pretension. The singing is almost all in Portuguese, but at least the translations in the notes enable us to learn about the sociopolitical significance of Nascimento’s “Letter to the Republic.” 2 stars.
“MAOS.” Ivan Lins. PolyGram 832262-2. “Maos” (Hands) reveals Lins as an ingratiating personality with a voice that almost defies the language barrier--but not quite, and foolishly, translations are absent here, leaving such songs as “Nicaragua” unexplained, though the cheerful voices and beat somehow put across a pro-Managua message. “Illuminados” is another contagious example of Lins’ writing. Too bad this is such a brief set (32 minutes and eight songs, even on the CD). 3 stars.
“TJADERAMA.” Clare Fischer & His Latin Jazz Sextet. Trend TRCD-551. A few thousand miles north of Rio, related Latin sounds thrive. This dedication to the late Cal Tjader comprises songs by or associated with him, along with four originals by Fischer, whose digital piano has a vibes effect that enables him to approximate Tjader’s sound. Most cuts have a three piece percussion section with a Fischer regular, Dick Mitchell, on flutes and soprano sax. Pleasant lightweight listening. 3 stars.
“THE OVERWHELMING JOE WILLIAMS.” RCA Bluebird 6464-2-RB. Consider the company the singer kept on these various 1960s dates: Clark Terry, Thad Jones or Howard McGhee on trumpet; Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, tenors; Hank Jones, Junior Mance, piano, and dozens more. Of the 18 songs, six are blues (including an informal version of “Every Day”), four are Ellington, and one is both (Duke’s “Rocks in My Bed”). A couple of more ambitious cuts with strings and/or voices, displaying Williams as a top-grade ballad singer, work well, too. 4 stars.
“IT’S ABOUT TIME,” Harvie Swartz. Gala D 9011. Playing something called the Merchant Vertical bass, Swartz also functions as composer and, briefly, pianist, in a curious assortment of fusion and quasi-jazz, with one or two cuts displaying his writing talent reasonably well. Percussion, synth and harmonica are among those present in the group, known as Urban Earth. This may earn him some new listeners but will say little to those who admired him in his straight-ahead days. 2 1/2 stars.
“THE HOOPS McCANN BAND PLAYS THE MUSIC OF STEELY DAN.” MCA MCAD-42202. The fictitious name in effect stands for the conductor-aranger Joe Roccisano, who takes the nine-piece band through instrumental charts that alternate effectively between jazz and fusion. Soloists, all leading Los Angeles studio musicians (most of whom were on the original Steely Dan versions), include Mike Lang, piano; Jerome Richardson, alto sax; Chuck Findley, trumpet. A neat transmogrification. 3 1/2 stars.