Various Artists – Bossa Nova (Soul Jazz/Southbound) CD REVIEW

Despite my penchant for music of the world, I’ve always had a bit of a blockage when it came to jazzy grooves of a South American bent. The liner notes of this extraordinary double CD explain why. Bossa Nova was a fusion of jazz, African and Latin American music forms that came from a brief time of optimism and prosperity in Brazil in the early ‘60s, before an oppressive junta took over and everything collapsed; it was a music of knowing sophistication and just too cool for school. That’s exactly what always got my goat about this style of music.
But here’s something this reviewer doesn’t admit to very often: I was wrong.
This authoritative compilation – subtitled Bossa Nova And the Rise Of Brazilian Music In The 1960s – is packed to the gills with those light, airy, yet creamy, and ultra-sensuous sounds we’ve all heard on well-known tracks like ‘Girl From Ipanema’. The revelation for me, however, is that Bossa Nova wasn’t just a light cocktail music for the jet set; indeed, there’s real depth in many of these songs, emotionally, intellectually and musically.
Bossa Nova also shows just how diverse this genre could be, and the chosen tracks, which run from the late ‘50s to the early ‘70s, sometimes do somewhat challenge the genre in which they’re placed by the Soul Jazz compilers. But that’s okay. While experts in musical history may dispute the authenticity of the later tracks, the rest of us can just enjoy a cracking good compilation of slices of Brazilian exotica that otherwise, we may never have come across.
It seems wrong to pick out highlights, because most of it’s excellent. But I can’t resist. Ginga Trio’s ‘Yemanja’ is a super cool instrumental with wordless chorus, ‘Canto de Ossanha’ is a duet between Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes, and is a microcosm of all the greatest aspects of the genre: the understated intensity, sensuality in a rare embrace with intellect. On the second disc, Edu Lobo’s ‘Ponteio’ makes a lie of the accusation that all Bossa Nova is geared towards good times, and even though I can’t understand the words, the tune carries a worried, melancholy feeling.
But Bossa Nova is full of gems, and I can see myself dipping into this regularly to get more intimately acquainted with its often incredible arrangements and balletic music performances.
Soul Jazz is a label that takes the job of re-presenting history seriously, and they’ve done a stunning job with Bossa Nova. With its perfect-bound booklet (detailed liner notes, incredible photos) and careful mastering that really makes these sounds come alive, it’s hard to find a weakness. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3.5
Music = 4

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