When it comes to the bossa nova music explosion in America, Charlie Byrd represents ground zero. It was in 1961, during a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of South America that Byrd first discovered the Brazilian music. Upon returning to the U.S., he played some of the music for sax legend Stan Getz who convinced Verve’s Creed Taylor to produce their first recording of this new music. That album was titled "Jazz Samba". It became a huge hit on the strength of the single "Desafinado" and launched the bossa nova craze in America. Nearly 40 years later bossa nova continues to have a strong following and is considered a legitimate jazz sub-genre.
Anytime Charlie Byrd picks up a guitar, magic happens. He has a technique that is second to none. He was originally a classical guitarist, and was credited for applying acoustic classical guitar to jazz in the mid-50’s. His first recording as a leader was for Savoy in 1957. In addition to Verve, he’s also recorded for Riverside and Columbia. From 1974 until the time of his death in 1999 he recorded exclusively for the Concord label in a variety of settings.
The first disc of this set, "Sugarloaf Suite", was recorded live at the Concord Jazz Festival in August of 1979. This album of eight tunes consists of four Charlie Byrd originals and four bossa nova standards. Charlie and Joe’s performances on this recording are stellar, but drummer Phillips falls a little short. It not that he’s not a great drummer, but throughout this recording there are moments when his timing is inconsistent. It’s subtle, but it’s enough to mar what would otherwise be a classic recording. Bossa nova music is deceptively difficult to play correctly. The rhythms, when played authentically, are complex and elaborate. Being so heavily rhythmic-based, it is usually the drummer that bears the majority of the responsibility for its success or failure. Unfortunately, Phillips was not completely up to the task on this particular date.
In contrast, the second album, "Brazilville" is absolutely flawless. Here, drummer Charles Redd not only keeps time like a metronome, but his playing is full of inventive flourishes and creative ideas. Bud Shank’s alto is a welcome addition to the trio. He has a beautiful sound that is both gritty and sensual at the same time. On this album they vary the program a bit by giving the bossa nova or samba treatment to a couple of jazz standards ("What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life", "Speak Low" and "Yesterdays") in addition to some bossa chestnuts and another Charlie Byrd original ("Charlotte’s Fancy").
If you’re a bossa nova fan and you don’t have these albums, you definitely should add them to your collection. If you’re new to bossa nova this collection would serve as a fine introduction, in spite of the slightly flawed first disc.