"He could read a newspaper and sound good." - Miles Davis
A compliment from one master about another, this is how Davis described legendary Brazilian singer/guitarist/composer JOÃO GILBERTO. The artist who revolutionized Brazilian popular music in the '50s by creating the bossa nova sound, Gilberto is back with his first studio album in almost a decade. The result is Verve's João Voz e Violão (João Voice and Guitar), a recording that captures the two instruments that defined bossa nova: Gilberto's delicate, whispering vocals and his mesmerizing guitar rhythms. It is a stripped-down recording (the first studio album to capture Gilberto without additional accompaniment), but one that needs no further embellishment. Gilberto's voice and guitar alone demonstrate why he is revered worldwide.
Gilberto has been idolized by music enthusiasts and musicians alike for his unique contributions to global music, and his influence continues to reach a wide array of artists from Brazilian stars Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil to pop performers such as Beck and David Byrne. Gilberto invited Veloso, his most accomplished and faithful follower, to sit at the production helm for this foray into the studio. Veloso, a Brazilian music legend in his own right, has helped Gilberto create a jewel of an album, one that easily takes its place alongside the most classic of Gilberto's recordings.
João Voz e Violão includes favorite standards along with compositions by the newer generation of performers Gilberto inspired, although the initial idea for this project was to re-record songs featured on Gilberto's first three albums. (Released between 1958 and 1961, they are long out of print.) Veloso suggested recording some new songs, and Gilberto agreed. The final track listing includes only two songs from Gilberto's first albums: "Desafinado" (by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonca) and "Chega de Saudade" (by Jobim and Vincius de Moraes) the latter being the song that launched bossa nova. At Veloso's urging, Gilberto added "N o Vou Pra Casa" (written by Antonio Almeida and Roberto Roberti in 1941) and "Segredo" (written by Herivelto Martins and Marino Pinto in 1947).
Rounding out the album's repertoire are the Veloso-penned tracks "Desde que o Samba Samba" and "Cora o Vagabundo"; Gil's "Eu Vim da Bahia"; Jobim's "Voc Vai Ver"; Ernesto Lecuona's "Eclipse"; and Boror 's "Da Cor do Pecado," a samba which Gilberto has been singing in concert for years. João Voz e Violão was recorded in two sessions; in most cases, the first take is the version included on the record. Gilberto calls this album "the only record of [mine] that [I] listen to."
João Gilberto do Prado Pereira de Oliveira was born in 1931 in Juazeiro, Bahia, Brazil. From birth, he was only interested in music, eschewing his father's request that he get a school diploma in order to make music. He began playing drums, but when he was 14, his grandfather gave him a guitar, which he played constantly. Influenced by both the Brazilian samba and swing jazz, he slowly came to define the style for which he would be best known: the bossa nova. A simpler, more minimalist take on the samba, bossa nova was the perfect showcase for Gilberto's trademark singing style: quiet and intimate, without vibrato, his vocal tempo moving and shifting in relation to his guitar rhythms.
While Jobim set the standard for the creation of bossa nova, Gilberto certainly defined the style. "Chega de Saudade," recorded by Gilberto and Jobim in 1958, is universally acknowledged as the song that launched both the bossa nova movement and Gilberto's career. His international breakthrough came in 1963 with the release of "The Girl From Ipanema," a track from the album he recorded with Stan Getz, Getz/Gilberto on Verve. (The song featured vocals by Gilberto's wife, Astrud). The album won two GRAMMY Awards in 1965 and is still considered to be the most successful bossa nova record of all time. In addition to Getz, the bossa nova style went on to influence and inspire a new musical direction for many American jazz artists.
In his native country of Brazil, Gilberto is called "O Mito" (the legend), a fitting title for a man whose music has set such a standard. João Voz e Violão, an album that glories in the power of silences and quiet, softness and serenity, revisits his musical mastery. Gilberto's voice floats over a singular guitar, its syncopation seductive. One can easily hear and understand why he is considered a master. With João Voz e Violão, we are reminded that Gilberto has, over the past 40 years, graced our world with musical genius.
Perhaps Veloso's sister, Maria Bethãnia, a singing star herself, describes João best: "He simply is music. He is the most fascinating being, the most fascinating person that I have ever encountered on the surface of the earth. João, he is mystery. He hypnotizes."