Bossa nova in two series

Triple compilation put out by Som Livre Direct is more interesting than the five 3 na Bossa CDs, produced by Roberto Menescal

Rodrigo Faour
Tom Jobim used to complain about rock being older than bossa nova yet not ever being referred to as outdated. In fact, Brazilians have always been quite uptight toward the genre created by the maestro, with Vinicius de Moraes and João Gilberto. Fortunately, the younger generations have been developing a taste for bossa - be they musicians or laic - thus stimulating record companies to put out more discs.

Among the recent releases, we have the Som Livre Direct box set (volumes 130'' excerpts, 2 30'' excerpts and 330'' excerpts), featuring 50 timeless bossa tracks in representative recordings made available by the main major labels - it is one of the few good bossa nova compilations around. Unbeatable Roberto Menescal, in his turn, has produced a series of 5 instrumental CDs on Abril Music named 3 na Bossa, just hitting the stores, with new performances of the biggest bossa hits (one of the CDs features international standards only, such as Rhapsody in Blue, The Man I Love and Night and Day, but with bossa arrangements).

O Melhor da Bossa Nova will please anyone who spends small fortunes on second hand vinyl stores. Of course, there are a few worn out cuts, like (wonderful, it’s true!) Águas de Março, with Elis Regina and Tom Jobim. But most of the tracks are quite hard to find on bossa compilations that labels like Universal (former Polygram and former Philips) put out nonstop, year after year. Generally, they bring recordings that represent the height of the movement, but lack rare gems like the ones found on A Trip do Brazil (two double-CDs produced for the foreign market by researcher Arnaldo DeSouteiro).

Different generations linked by sophistication
Although performers from different generations have been mixed on the three CDs, one might say that this compilation makes justice to the movement’s predecessors. That is, people who were forging the cool music in the 1940s and ‘50s, renewing the samba and the samba-tune without noticing that it was already bossa nova. And the group is quite large. If the compilation won’t include all of them, at least it brings the memory of some important names: Dick Farney (Este Seu Olhar and O Amor em Paz, both t with Claudette Soares), Johnny Alf (Céu e Mar and Rapaz de Bem), Agostinho dos Santos (Manhã de Carnaval and Telefone), Maysa (Se Todos Fossem Iguais a Você and O Barquinho), Silvia Telles (Dindi and Se É Tarde Me Perdôa), Tito Madi (Eu Sei que Vou Te Amar) and Os Cariocas (Garota de Ipanema and Ela É Carioca).

The list is completed with the artists that participated in the origins of the movement, such as Roberto Menescal (Saudade Fez um Samba and Ah! Se Eu Pudesse), Carlos Lyra (Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas, Minha Namorada and Influência do Jazz), Tom Jobim (Só Tinha de Ser com Você, with Elis Regina, Wave and Samba do Avião, with Miúcha), Vinicius de Moraes (Samba da Bênção, Apelo - with Toquinho and Maria Bethânia) and Leny Andrade (Samba de uma Nota Só). Some might miss João Gilberto, but his most classic recordings could not be reprinted due to legal problems.

In 1962, Baden Powell met with Vinicius de Moraes and started to get involved with bossa nova (he wrote Deixa, with Maurício Einhorn, and Berimbau). Then in ’64, Wanda Sá (Vagamente and Vivo Sonhando), Nara Leão (Outra Vez and a Corcovado/Insensatez medley), Marcos Valle (Preciso Aprender a Ser Só and Terra de Ninguém, with the Golden Boys), Sérgio Mendes (Só Danço Samba), Zimbo Trio (Balanço Zona Sul) and Silvio César (Pra Você) jumped on board.

Still in the 1960s, Geraldo Vandré (Quem Quiser Encontrar o Amor, Samba em Prelúdio - the latter with Ana Lúcia) and Wilson Simonal (Lobo Bobo) kicked off their careers doing bossa nova and later pursued other types of music. Many artists that appeared on festivals and included bossa in their repertoire are also featured in the series: Quarteto em Cy (Canto de Ossanha), Nana Caymmi (Inútil Paisagem, with her father, Dorival), Márcia (Eu e a Brisa), Joyce (Triste), Caetano Veloso (Samba de Verão) and Gal Costa (Bonita, Estrada do Sol and Desafinado). As a side-dish, O Melhor da Bossa Nova brings all of the lyrics printed in the booklet.

3 na Bossa falls into the easy listening trap
Whereas the Som Livre Direct box bets on recordings that actually represent the movement, the 3 na Bossa (Abril Music) project, produced by Menescal, slips into redundancy (listen to excerpts 1 30'' excerpts , 2 30'' excerpts , 3 30'' excerpts , 4 30'' excerpts , 5 30'' excerpts. The consumer will not find out who the 3 bossa people are by looking on the cover. But the booklet informs that they are Edmur Hebter (piano), Elaine do Valle (bass, the two have been working together for some time) and Toninho Pinheiro (drums, ex-Jongo Trio and ex-SomTrês). Menescal appears as a guest artists on a number of tracks.

But the atmosphere of the five albums that comprise the 3 na Bossa collection is way too piano-bar-style. It's about easy listening, only recommended to couples who are hosting the Sunday lunch or, at best, the Saturday night dinner party. Nothing brings really new views on tired bossa classics. The five CDs feature bilingual titles and four of them simply distribute the standards with no apparent inventiveness on how they are grouped or on the arrangements. The best parts are the brief texts written by Ruy Castro in each booklet and the CD-ROM tracks with the videos of the recording of Watch What Happens (CD 1), Preciso Aprender a Ser Só (CD 2), Bossa na Praia (CD 3), Batida Diferente (CD 4) and Você (CD 5).

Meanwhile, these two series - especially O Melhor da Bossa Nova - only serve too keep up with the hope. Record companies need to get serious and release fundamental albums of artists like Carlos Lyra, Leny Andrade, Os Cariocas, Silvia Telles and many others on CD. Then we will be able to say that justice was made.