Getz/Gilberto ***** A watershed, “Best Of…” record on many lists, this album popularized Bossa Nova to the world, solidified the already impressive careers of guitarist/composer/singer João Gilberto, saxophonist Stan Getz and composer/pianist António Carlos Jobim, and made an international star out of Astrud Gilberto. Not only was the album a critical and popular success, but three songs from the album, The Girl From Ipanema, Corcovado, and Desafinado would become jazz/popular standards and would even find their way to Gypsy Jazz canon in the coming decades. Also it became an instant fine-living, travel to far-flung locale, international party hit helping to shrink a world that was already becoming much smaller as the 20th century rolled along. World music? Possibly. How many people have partied, broke bread, danced, strolled, loved, and lost to the sounds of this album? Incalculable, I would think. A innumerate number of good times and broken hearts, but…it’s the way of the world, isn’t it?
João Gilberto’s very unique style for guitar and voice had its origins in Brazil in the late 1950s where he wrote his first bossa-nova song, Bim-Bim. Originally based on the samba, Gilberto’s music eschewed the over-the-top musical elements and instrumentation usually found in that music in favor of quiet, insistent and rhythmically percussive self-accompaniment on an acoustic guitar. This became an instantly recognizable and popular style, especially given the material that Gilberto had to work with. Jobim’s compositions are the purest examples of suave, sophisticated harmony that lends itself to a sparse romantic music and he was involved in writing all but one of the tunes on the album (Para Machucar Meu Coração). Everyone has heard Girl from Ipanema and many have heard Corcovado and Desafinado. The melodies linger long after the songs have ceased playing and all three have a nostalgic reflective tone in addition to their other splendid qualities. The playful Doralice samba and Só Danco Samba instill a groovy dance vibe and Getz’s sax, brings some absolute gorgeous tones as the songs build during his solos, yet the rhythmic center that defines the tunes is never lost.
The first popular album of bossa-nova in the United States was actually performed by Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd a few years before Getz/Gilberto was recorded and the positive reviews and reactions led to a legendary concert at Carnegie Hall to promote the style. Out of that concert, came this album. I’ve already reviewed another killer album that Stan Getz was a party to — Moonlight in Vermont with the amazing Johnny Smith. People can talk about Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, but Getz may have been the best-sounding (mellifluous) saxophonist who ever put lips to…er mouthpiece. When someone of Coltrane’s caliber describes your sound as, “Let’s face it—we’d all sound like that if we could,” you’re probably doing something right. Getz’s presence on this album is just as important as Moonlight in Vermont and what’s interesting is that both albums are guitar albums. Different kinds of guitar albums in terms of music, style, focus and execution, but it is the guitar that really drives both discs.
The combination of Gilberto’s quiet comping, Jobim’s sparse piano, Getz’s lyrical, very resonant sax and the laid-back rhythm section of Sebastião Neto on bass and Milton Banana on drums was a winner and still makes for a very beautiful sound and album. Astrud Gilberto, who had never sung before, brings a relaxed, very femininely melodic presence to two songs, Girl from Ipanema and Corcovado. On both tunes both Gilbertos sing and Getz plays in the same very lagged, easy manner with subtle adjustments to the melody each time through. There isn’t that much in the way of crazy improvisation; substitutions, speed, volume or drive that one usually hears in jazz or pop soloing, but that helps with the cohesiveness of the album. On Getz/Gilberto all of the songs stand alone, but also reflect beautifully on each other. The continuity is also a result of Gilberto’s guitar style, which is the antithesis of what most later guitar players (and other soloists) would play (or over-play) later when covering these tunes. That is a “thing” and certainly a group like the Rosenberg Trio has taken Jobim material and made it amazing as only they can, but this album is a study in the beauty and effectiveness of restraint and control in music, performance, and emotion and how that can be amazing as well. It produces a sound that instantly puts one drowsy on a languid beach, kissed by the wind and the tang of the ocean, rolling off the quiet swells of the deep blue sea, wrapped in the warm glow of the sun and waiting for the quiet stars of the quiet nights and the moonlight on the mountains…