The Composer of "Desafinando" Plays

Jobim, Antonio Carlos

album cover

The World's Greatest Sensualist Plays . . .

Always in the music of Antonio Carlos ("Tom") Jobim, there's a beautiful, unreachable woman standing just outside the frame. The Brazilian composer of so much bossa nova was one of the world's great musical sensualists; he made marathon longing seem sublime, even noble.

Jobim's melodies move with supreme feminine sleekness; as he watches that girl from Ipanema go by, he's a worshipper of beauty who precisely emulates the sway of her gait. As he ponders the end of a great love, his murmuring "How Insensitive" catches not just the expected twinge of melancholy, but an abiding (and possibly irrational) reverence for the one whose bed he will no longer share.

Things seem fragile in Jobim's music. The melodies are threadbare wisps kept airborne by unrequited desire. The harmonies are of a molecular structure that is unique to him—rich with elaborate sliding chordal schemes and yet as fleeting as sand sculpture. Although many dismiss Jobim as dentist-office music, the instrumental Verve sides (this and the equally entrancing Wave), with their modest piano declarations and cascading strings, are the living essence of the notion that less is more. It takes a while to appreciate how much more. Go past the surface beauty, past the dinner-dress slink of the bossa rhythm, and there discover a cool quiet place near the shore, where you can go to meditate on the great vanished love. Alone.

Genre: World, Brazil
Released: 1963, Verve
Key Tracks: "Desafinado," "Once I Loved," "The Girl from Ipanema."
Catalog Choice: Wave.
Next Stop: João Gilberto: Au vivo en Montreux
After That: Egberto Gismonti: Sol do melo dia
Book Pages: 397–398

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