While the Japanese have been captured by the spell of Brazil's classics of the past three decades it's taken time for American record companies to get caught up in the swell of nostalgia. It's been an even longer wait for the folks at the newly configured Verve Music Group to realize the importance of their holdings from the A&M and CTI catalog. As a result, Verve's new series of reissues focusing on the "Brazilian tinge" will appeal to collectors who have been waiting to replace their time-worn vinyl copies, while hopefully seducing new audiences with the timeless spell of these highly romantic works.
Taken in chronological fashion, this survey of reissues will begin with three titles that fall under the banner of producer Creed Taylor's A&M/CTI imprimatur. While often misunderstood by fans and critics alike, the fact remains that Taylor has always served a function as one of the music industry's catalysts in terms of developing crossover appeal. He was able to do this briefly while at the helm of Impulse Records, but his activities reached an early zenith during his tenure at Verve where he produced the aforementioned Getz/Byrd recordings, as well as hit albums for Bill Evans, Jimmy Smith, and Cal Tjader.
In 1967, Taylor entered into a distribution deal with Herb Alpert's A&M label and the groundwork for CTI Records would be set in place. With distinctive white-bannered gatefold covers featuring the photography of the legendary Pete Turner, this new series of recordings would expertly represent Taylor's skill at attracting crossover audiences while showcasing artists spanning from pop/soul singers Richard Barbary and Tamiko Jones to reunion projects from J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. However, Taylor's finest achievements in this new series were those that possessed a Brazilian connection.
Already a popular success in Brazil via their recordings for the Phillips label, Tamba 4 (known in their homeland as the Tamba Trio) would record two albums for A&M/CTI, with WE AND THE SEA getting a new reissue as part of the Passport to Brazil series. Fronted by the very talented pianist Luiz Eca, Tamba 4 deftly molded jazz, classical, and Brazilian elements into their own hybrid style that proved to be as ebullient as it was refined and resolute. Clearly none of the limitations and commercial concessions that would mare some of Taylor's later productions are in evidence here, yet Eca at times seems to prematurely conclude with one idea before he's off to another new one, particularly on the lengthy treks through "O Morro" and "Consolation." Still, a beautiful selection of native standards (including works by Baden Powell, Jobim, and the debut of Eca's own "The Dolphin") and the quartet's piquant backing vocals contribute to an extremely charismatic recital.
While everyone from Coleman Hawkins to Zoot Sims would cut a bossa record following the successes of Stan Getz, the music's lilting and buoyant quality seemed tailor-made for the refined lyricism of alto great Paul Desmond. The second of three records he would record for Taylor, Desmond's 1969 classic, FROM THE HOT AFTERNOON, sagaciously presents a set of tunes penned by two of Brazil's finest writers- Edu Lobo (more on him later) and Milton Nascimento (a newcomer at the time who would cut his own set, COURAGE, for CTI). Backed discreetly by Don Sebesky's charts for strings and horns, the core rhythm section includes both Lobo and Dorio Ferreira on guitars, Ron Carter on bass, and Airto on drums and percussion.
Desmond plays with pure elegance and inspiration throughout, packing as much into these brief performances as can often be found in multitudes of choruses from less-skilled artists. His quote of "St. Thomas" at the conclusion of "Catavento" further defines Desmond's quick wit and resourceful spirit. Standards such as "Crystal Illusions," "To Say Goodbye," and "Gira Girou" will be immediately familiar to Brazilian buffs and never have they sounded quite as good as when processed through the genius of Desmond and crew. As a bonus on this reissue, six alternative takes that feature just Paul and the rhythm backing are included.
One of the earliest hits in the A&M/CTI series was Antonio Carlos Jobim's WAVE, a venerable collection of his best standards beautifully performed and lightly spiced with strings and the liquid trombone solos of Urbie Green. While it has been available on CD for over a decade now, its follow-up release, TIDE, is just now seeing a domestic reissue. One of Jobim's enduring statements, TIDE is distinguished by Eumir Deodato's sharp arrangements, which fulfill their charming character through the use of various flutes and brass. Jobim's piano work is up-front too, marked by extreme refinement and economy.
Although all of Jobim's compositions can be considered exquisite tone poems, the only highly familiar line is likely to be "The Girl From Ipanema," which Deodato manages to transform through a brass-heavy tag that separates the initial statements of the melody. "Tema Jazz" is notable for Hermeto Pascoal's wild flute solo, marked by the vocalized rasps that are akin to Roland Kirk's singular work on the instrument. The title track is cleverly based on the changes of "Wave," while "Remember" has the kind of repeating hook that distinguished the classic "Captain Bacardi" from the WAVE album. One of the select highlights, however, is "Takatanga," which effortlessly drifts on Jobim's wafting electric piano and accents from the bass trombones. Making a good thing even better, you'll find three very different alternative takes of "Tema Jazz" and one alternate of the title track.
Thus concluding our look at those reissues that came from the production wing of Creed Taylor, the next three albums in our survey appeared originally on the A&M label. It's founding father, Herb Alpert, proved to be an erudite talent scout when he happened to pick up on the fresh Brazilian leanings of pianist and bandleader Sergio Mendes. Although Mendes had already made a few records in his native country as well as several sets for Atlantic here in the U.S., he wouldn't achieve any kind of commercial success until forming Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 and hooking up with Alpert for an exceptional string of albums.
The group's third record for A&M, LOOK AROUND seemed to strike a chord with fans as it sensibly combined the more popular elements of the day with some of the best writing coming out of Brazil at the time. Obviously, Bacharach's "The Look of Love" and Lennon/McCartney's "With a Little Help From My Friends" were created with airplay in mind, yet their impressive transformation avoids any sort of banal commercialism. Choice works from Edu Lobo, Gilberto Gil, and Marcos Valle round things out, with tight backing highlighted by Mendes' piano and the expert drumming of Joao Palma. Soon to become a star in her own right, Lani Hall's lead vocals are enlivening, as she aptly navigates the Portuguese lyrics with ease.
Mendes would go on to lead many more albums for A&M, acting as talent scout and producer on a few occasions as well. His obvious proclivity towards the compositions of Edu Lobo can be assumed by their inclusion on a number of Brazil '66 albums. Then in 1971, Mendes decided to engender a showcase for the young composer/singer/guitarist via the aptly named SERGIO MENDES PRESENT EDU LOBO. Among his large catalog, this release more than any other serves as a perfect spotlight, illuminating all of Lobo's alluring and seductive qualities, his tepid baritone tastefully supported by modest arrangements of such modern day standards as "To Say Goodbye," "Casa Forte," and "Ponteio." The only miss here would have to be a stylized version of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" that sounds a bit too dated for its own good.
Quite possibly his most fashionable American release, MILTON served as a sort of musical quid pro quo between Brazilian superstar Milton Nascimento and jazz legend Wayne Shorter. As it turns out, Milton had contributed greatly to Shorter's watershed release, NATIVE DANCER, just prior to cutting this 1976 set for A&M, which finds Shorter on board as well as Herbie Hancock. With a vocal range to die for and a sweetly stinging falsetto, Nascimento delivers an winning set notable for its great variety. While some cuts, such as the familiar "Cravo e Canela," add textural layers that build to a climactic peak, pieces such as "The Call" and "Francisco" are almost of a minimalist nature, with Milton's guitar and voice being the center of attention. "Raca," Fairy Tale Song," and "Nothing Will Be As It Was" are further titles of some renown from an album that attains a perfection even rare by Nascimento's usually high standards.