Album of the Week: Getz/Gilberto

One of the paradoxes of jazz is that really good jazz doesn’t sound that complex. It sounds effortless, tossed-off, minimizing the intense concentration and skill required to play it. Getz/Gilberto is a great example: this seminal 1964 album sounds like they recorded it in one breezy afternoon session. What you don’t get is how complex the darn thing is—like an iceberg, the musicians display only a fraction of their talent and knowledge, and this minimalism might be what gives the album its accessibility.

It would be difficult to find a cadre of musicians better suited for playing bossa nova than the ones who appear here. In fact, Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim can honestly be said to have helped invent the genre, and this album is the reason why their names are known worldwide as well as in their native Brazil. Stan Getz is the only non-Brazilian on the album, but his cool sensibility and expressive lyricism on songs like “O Grande Amor,” dovetail with the other players’ vibe.

Joao Gilberto’s rhythmically complex guitar playing and vocals anchor the record. His voice is an acquired taste, reedy and subtle, and there’s a greath depth and mystery to his delivery. He sings with conviction and wisdom, even if I can’t understand what he’s saying.

His wife, Astrud, shares some of these same qualities. Her immortal vocals on “Corcovado” and “The Girl From Ipanema” share that depth and mystery, but hook the listener instantly. Tonally speaking, they’re almost on the other end of the vocal spectrum from Joao’s, providing a refreshing departure.

Her alto interestingly echoes Stan Getz’s tenor sax. Getz is undoubtedly the third voice in this quintet, and probably the most stunning. His tone is silk smooth and incredibly full–every note is right, and his lyrical sensibility is always on display. Even when he cuts loose on a solo, as he does in “So Danco Samba,” you can still sing along (something that can’t be said for some of Coltrane’s solos). He’s also mic’ed exquisitely, and you can sometimes hear a breath or his fingers on the keys. Getz was nicknamed “the Sound” for a reason: this is what jazz saxophone should sound like.

But my favorite player on the record—I’m not exaggerating—is drummer Milton Banana. His fantastic (stage) name aside, he propels the entire record on little more than a hi-hat and rimshots. A light touch and rhythmic excitement don’t normally go together, but here, Banana sinks his teeth in. It’s an incredible exercise in minimalism, all the more so because the group swings so hard.  Even more exciting than Getz’s solo on “So Danco Samba” may be when Banana opens up behind him, which could be the only time he hits the heads of his drums on the record.

If you know jazz, it shouldn’t surprise you that I have only great things to say about this record. If you’re new to the genre, you need to get your hands on a copy of this as soon as possible. It’s accessible, simple, and beautiful—a knockout album.

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