Blame it on the bossa nova

Special to The Times

Bossa nova, like the Great American Songbook, defined an era while simultaneously providing a style and repertoire for future development. Although many compositions by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Carlos Lyra and Luis Bonfa (to mention only a few of the genre’s many songwriters) were created in the ‘50s and ‘60s, they are as vital today as the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, etc.

Equally important, the floating rhythmic style created by guitarist-singer Gilberto (who performs at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday -- story, Page TK) has become one of the primary accompaniment patterns for jazz-based balladry. Its elements have become so well established, in fact, that it often surfaces, although in superficial fashion, in lounge acts and dinner music.

Forty-five years after Gilberto’s first revolutionary recordings, bossa nova -- despite decades of transformation and adaptation -- is still generating compelling performances. Here are a few recent examples.


Marcio Faraco

“Interior” (Sunnyside)

*** 1/2

Faraco has spent a good portion of his career accompanying other artists. Although he is 40, this is only his second solo album. There should have been more. Imagine a mixture of James Taylor’s ironic lightheartedness, Caetano Veloso’s intimate vocal sound and Gilberto’s subtle blend of voice and guitar and you have a slight sense of Faraco’s music. His songs bypass intervening styles and hark to the bossa nova of the ‘50s and ‘60s in settings that range from piano and guitar to a string section to a unique, accordion-tinged ensemble (with pianist Kenny Barron adding luster to several tracks). Faraco’s performances are entrancing, a masterful restatement of the beauty, strength and vitality of bossa nova.

Rosa Passos & Ron Carter

“Entre Amigos” (Chesky)

*** 1/2

Previously released internationally, “Entre Amigos” is scheduled to be issued in the U.S. in September. It presents what seems to be an unlikely combination: Carter, one of the finest bassists in the history of jazz, and Passos, a sweet-voiced Brazilian singer-guitarist. But the pairing works extraordinarily well. Carter’s strong foundation allows Passos’ vocals to soar, and a subtle jazz undercurrent adds lift and momentum to the bossa nova rhythms. Passos’ voice has the fragile, light-toned quality typical of many female Brazilian singers. But her skills as a guitarist have invested her vocals with a crisp rhythmic articulateness. Part of the program is devoted to familiar Jobim songs (“Desafinado,” “Insensatez,” etc.), part of it to less frequently performed but no less appealing Jobim numbers (“Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar,” “O Grande Amor”). And on “Por Causa de Voce,” there is a marvelously intimate musical duet between Passos and Carter -- an enchanting example of artistry beyond category.


“A Day In New York” (Sony Classical)


Cellist Jacques Morelenbaum was a close associate of Jobim, and the first recording by this ensemble, “Casa,” was recorded in the great Brazilian composer’s home studio. This follow-up, produced in New York City at the close of a tour supporting “Casa,” includes five more Jobim tunes: “Desafinado,” “Insensatez,” “Chega de Saudade,” “Chora Coracao” and “Falando de Amor.” Also included are Gilberto’s “Bim Bom,” considered by many the first real bossa nova tune, and Caetano Veloso’s bossa nova-tinged “Coracao Vagabundo.” Once again, the music is exquisitely rendered, with singer Paula Morelenbaum’s (Jacques’ wife) touching interpretations bringing the songs alive over airy, classic bossa nova rhythms enhanced by the acoustic guitar of Luiz Brasil.

Yo-Yo Ma

“Obrigado Brazil” (Sony)


Yo-Yo Ma, in his apparent quest to discover a role for the cello in every one of the world’s musics, has found a particularly empathic destination in Brazilian music. Much of what is present in this far-ranging selection will be part of the “Sounds of Brazil” program on Aug. 10 at the Hollywood Bowl, with Rosa Passos, the Assad brothers, clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera and pianist Kathryn Stott present on the album as well as in the concert lineup. The music ranges from a cello and two-guitar rendering of Villa-Lobos’ “A Lenda do Caboclo” and a thorny pair of pieces by Egberto Gismonti to some lighthearted Pixinguinha tunes and a pair of stunning Jobim numbers. On those latter tunes -- “Chega de Saudade” and “O Amor em Paz” -- bossa nova comes vividly alive, as Passos’ lyrical, cool-toned voice combines superbly with the warm, arching sounds of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello counter lines.

Rosalia De Souza

“Garota Moderna” (Avatar)


De Souza is a Brazilian who has lived in Italy for more than a decade. In “Garota Moderna” (“Modern Woman”), she performs in a musical setting provided by Italian DJ and producer Nicola Conte, who is particularly adept with dance-oriented lounge music. De Souza’s wispy-sounding voice is lovely to hear, and on several tracks Conte adds some piquant rhythmic touches -- a 5/4 meter for Roberto Menescal’s “Adriana,” a 6/4 meter for Caetano Veloso’s “Saudosismo.” What is most fascinating is the power of bossa nova to thrive, even within such a production-dominated setting.