(100) Days of Soundtrack: #26 – Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto

If there’s one genre I know I’m going to be supremely deficient in by the time this experiment is over, it’ll probably be jazz. Jazz is a genre I have always wanted to know more and more and then some about. I’ve just not known where to begin. Jazz covers so much, from tepid lounge singers to avant-garde weirdness. Classic jazz can be about glorified scat-singing or virtuoso instrumental improvisation. The greatest albums are just as likely to be variations on classic themes as originals which quickly became standards. And the thing is, not only is a jazz album as likely to be Kenny G as it is to be Herbie Hancock, but jazz is a supremely diverse and wide reaching genre. By comparison, your average music shop is unlikely to have more than a smattering of new releases, old standbys, and then Sinatra’s own weight worth of Sinatra. Going into a specialty shop, on the other hand, would be going down a wormhole. And then, is there any genre more apt to tempt you with compilations? Maybe you’re not feeling a full album of Nina Simone, but you’ll definitely go for “Jazz Classics in the Summer.” Possibly you want to explore Duke Ellington, but maybe “Classic Duke: The Premiere Collection” sounds safer than diving headfirst into an unknown album. There were many charming compilations of this nature when I worked at Barnes and Noble, and while none tempted me to buy, not truly, it was how I gained a true appreciation for one ubiquitous classic of the genre, and so, in attempting to add in some jazz flair, I traced that track to its source: the very beginning of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s unambiguously titled Getz/Gilberto.

When we were discussing Slowhand, I mentioned how interesting it was to see “Cocaine” in its original context, having heard it so many times and never thought of it as an intro. I’m going to argue that hearing “The Girl From Ipanema” in its original context is even more fascinating. Firstly, for many of us, it’s easy to forget that the song begins in another language. We recall only that classic, cool, detached Astrud Gilberto vocal. It’s possibly the song which defines chilled out lounge jazz… hearing it on its original terms is like seeing the actual Last Supper of DaVinci. Think about hearing this album in the 60s, likely your first ever introduction to Bossa Nova. Definitely your first introduction to Astrud: Joao’s wife had never sung in public, let alone on record. It’s a literal Birth of Venus moment in art: we hear what will become one of the most recognizable voices in music committed to wax for the first time.

Since this is basically to music what the first full appearance is to a comic fan, the highlights are obviously “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Corcovado,” the latter of which begins with a bit more drama from Astrud before lapsing into those familiar lulling chords. A similarly sparse intro to “O Grande Amor” allows a bit more sadness to seep into the track. The music otherwise has a melancholy, but it never feels sad.┬áIt’s hard not to have the distinctive rhythms of bossa nova blend a bit when you’re a novice to this sort of music. It’s a nice blending, though. This album is incredibly peaceful, beautiful without being frilly. In Joao Gilberto’s vocals, there is a quiet yearning but never so much as to interrupt the lushness of the arrangements. If you can listen to music like this and not want to learn Portuguese immediately, just to connect even deeper, we have little to talk about, you and I. As it stands, even with the language barrier, even with the reserved performance, you can feel what the Portuguese call “saudade,” a temperament which seems needless to define if you’ve been listening to the album itself. This is the epitome of that melancholy and nostalgia, and yet it is also the sea breeze off the Iberian peninsula, the vinho tinto pouring into glasses, or taking a table outdoors at a cafe to engage in some quality down-time. It’s how it feels to be alone somewhere beautiful, where you’re overwhelmed, but also aware of your solitude. It’s the moments when life reminds you how complicated it is as you are just in the midst of truly enjoying it. These songs play to our sense of comfort while also stroking under the chin of our emotions.

It’s obvious that Stan Getz is the primary performer here, even as the Gilbertos sing and Antonio Carlos Jobim composes, his piano shying away, but providing distinctive flourishes underneath everything else. The sax solos get the front and center feature here. This is an album where Jobim is playing buried underneath the mix, outside of rare moments of soloing (see “O Grande Amor”). Consider what that means for the level of talent on these recordings. For his part, Getz’s sax in some ways mimics the calm breathy vocals of Joao Gilberto, constantly dialing back so as not to overpower the overall mood, but always powerful enough when it comes in to make it clear who’s boss here. And yet, on the other hand, even as Getz noodles over “Vivo Sonhando,” this album closes leaving us realizing isn’t really about him at all, even if it’s clear he’s the featured soloist. Jobim and Gilberto’s backdrops are what made this album classic… take them away, and the mood is gone. That’s why an album like this can endure. It’s not really about single tracks, but for a little over a half hour, you’ve been taken somewhere new. It’s a cohesive statement, and it really is not long enough to possibly get boring for all its trademarks. It is, for good reason, what people think of when they think of an entire genre, and it’s a genre that sometimes we just need to fall gently into the arms of.

Alex Lupica (@Alex_Soundtrack) has been in love with music since he was a toddler, despite its infidelities. (Really, music? Nu-metal? How could you!). Alex is Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Soundtrack.

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