Not only was it sparked by a composer who routinely distilled the “soul” of his country into an elegant (and entirely self-contained) musical language – Antonio Carlos Jobim – but there were also singers and musicians of abundant interpretive gifts, and artists whose embrace of rock and funk created persuasive new combinations. It was impossible to capture every step in this torrid evolution in a book like 1000 Recordings: There are too many great recordings, and unfortunately many of them (like the amazing Quarteto Novo, which I blogged about here) still have not seen proper release outside of Brazil. The samba and bossa nova and MBP records spotlighted in the book can be considered at best a “highlight reel;” from that starting point, it’s possible to go forty or fifty records beyond them and still not hit a “clunker.”
One interesting path to take through an “Essential Brazil” discography is to focus on the many collaborative projects involving famous names: The titans of Brazilian music didn’t just make their own masterworks, they often found themselves as part of unusual “teams” for the purposes of exploration. Some of these, like the legendary pairing of Jobim and Elis Regina, entitled Elis & Tom, have the feeling of summit meetings. Others have less starpower wattage, but are no less musically vibrant. Here’s an annotated playlist featuring flat-out astounding collaborations:
Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto: “Corcovado” from Getz/Gilberto (1000 Recordings, pg. 308). The template for countless feisty, musically adventurous collaborations from Brazil.
Maria Bethania/Edu Lobo: “So Me Fez Bem” from Edu Lobo/Maria Bethania. Singing in an almost inconsolable heartbreak rasp, Maria Bethania seizes every emotional ripple lurking within this Edu Lobo ballad.
Baden Powell/Vinicius de Moraes: “Canto de Ossanha” from Os Afro Sambas. This meeting of dastardly guitarist Baden Powell and poet Vinicius de Moraes is one of a series of originals based on folkloric melodies. They're aimed at rousing various deities, and powerful enough to move mountains.
Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim: “Once I Loved” from Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim. (1000 Recordings, pg.708). The chairman of the board wasn’t from Brazil, but he certainly gets inside the Jobim songbook, charting a path followed by countless singers from around the world
Miucha & Jobim: “Samba do Aviao” from Miucha & Antonio Carlos Jobim. This is arguably the all-time best interpretation of a tragically underloved Jobim gem. Though her voice has a cigarette toughness, Miucha, the sister of Chico Buarque and mother of Bebel Gilberto, sings as though gliding.
Wanda Sa with Sergio Mendez & Brazil 65: “So Nice” from Brazil ’65. Before Mendez and crew made it big, they worked with the amazing Wanda Sa, whose voice illuminates every corner of this oft-heard tune.
Elis Regina & Toots Thielemans: “Wave” from Aquarela do Brazil. A typically playful and intervallically daring reading from Elis Regina; the harmonica master does OK, too.
Gilberto Gil & Jorge Ben: “Quem Mandou” from Gil & Jorge. A loose, off-the-cuff energy pervades everything on this classic one-off, which helped establish the foundation for early Brazilian funk.
Elis Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim: “Inutil Paisagem” from Elis & Tom (1000 Recordings, pg. 398). A semester’s worth of schooling on the art of ballad singing in three minutes.
Edu Lobo/Chico Buarque/Milton Nascimento: “Beatriz” from O Grande Circo Mistico. The album, which involves many Brazil luminaries, is uneven, but this track features a transfixing Milton Nascimento vocal.
Edu Lobo & Antonio Carlos Jobim: “Moto Continuo” from Edu & Tom. Another structurally complex labyrinth-like tune from Edu Lobo (with Chico Buarque), this 1981 duet is one of Jobim’s best late-career performances.
Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil: “Desde Quo O Samba E Samba” from Tropicalia 2. The 1994 reunion of two enfant terribles of Tropicalia travels from simple acoustic settings to busier electronica; this languid, impossibly beautiful tune leans affectionately toward tradition.
Wanda Sa & Roberto Menescal: “Chega de Saudade” from Eu e a Musica. If you ever need to be reminded that bossa nova is eternal, cue up this easygoing recent rendition of a Jobim classic, which reunites the amazingly evocative Sa and her first guitar teacher, the composer Roberto Menescal.