Monday, April 8, 2013

Bossa Nova, Baby

I remembered having seen a TV concert featuring the music (and piano playing) of Antônio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim. You may not know his name, but you've certainly heard his songs.

I searched for a library recording of Jobim's music and chose the one at the top of the list, not realizing that it was famous. It was the first jazz recording to win the Best Album Grammy (1965) and is one of the most successful jazz recordings of all time.

It's called "Getz/Gilberto." There are only 8 songs although the 45 RPM versions of two of the songs are included. Most of the songs are by Jobim alone or written by him with a collaborator. The musicians include Stan Getz, tenor saxophone, Jobim on piano, João Gilberto, guitar and vocals, Sebastião Neto, Bass, Milton Banana, drums, and Astrud Gilberto, vocals.

Much of the music could be mistaken today for Smooth Jazz but when Getz takes a verse and solos we are transported into a different musical world.

I find the best of the songs, The Girl from Ipanema, Desafinado and Corcovado, utterly charming, even spellbinding. Jobim employs a sophisticated harmonic pallette including surprising modulations and, by way of chord substitution, clever and deceiving progressions on the short journey back to the home key. He studied composition with the same teacher as the great Heitor Villa-Lobos who wrote the Bachianas Brazilieras.

Moreover, the simple melodies use sevenths, ninths and thirteenths as often as roots, thirds and fifths. They sound easy to sing until you try it, the melodies constantly sounding dissonances at the top of the chords. Jobim accomplishes this without ever disturbing the overall graceful elegance of the music.

Take, for example, the opening bars of Ipanema. The chord in the lead sheet says F+7 (f-a-c-e) but the first three notes of the tune are g (the ninth), e (the seventh) and d (a lower neighbour tone to the e?). The first note of the bridge is f (the root of the tonic chord, Doh) but it's played over a Gb+7 chord, making it the seventh of the chord and the harmony of the bridge continues in that vein.

Yet it all sounds effortless and inevitable.

Another thing I found interesting is that the rhythm of the English lyrics differ from those established by the original Portuguese lyrics. Put simply, the original lyrics sound better even if, like me, you can't understand a single word.

A little aside. The English lyrics to Corcovado (Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars) were written by Gene Lees. A distinguished music journalist, lyricist and singer with whom I corresponded by e-mail some years ago, he was originally from  Hamilton. He passed away in 2010.

Unbelievably, the woman who inspire The Girl From Ipanema has made a career of it.

I'll leave you with Getz, Gilberto et al and that famous recording of Corcovado. So beautiful.

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