Staff Top 10
Top Ten Antique Bossa Nova and Samba Recordings

genres, like cultures, are born, are adopted, grow, develop, stagnate, calcify and degrade to decadence. These days, the indie-heads dispute whether or not Band X is screamo or extremo, whether or not Band Y is J-Pop or J-Rock, whether Band Z is or newgrass. However, some genres are just so old that they have already been dissected and had all their mysterious gizzards examined by decades of music critics and fans. So they are what they are—they calcify, no further room for experimentation is possible. Or if there is experimentation, its so thoroughly interlaced into a new archetype that it simply borrows the name. (See dub—"a kind of ambient techno," the record clerk told me. Ha.)

So as completely played out in some circles as Bossa Nova and Samba now are, there is one area of their brilliance that cannot be degraded by the high school bands who vamp on "Desafinado". Therefore I deign to quibble over whether the tracks below are samba or bossa: the only thing I know for sure is that they are not nova. They are time capsules from a continent that no longer exists. Real 100% Brazilian political discontent in every creamy mouthful.

10. Antigua - Antonio Carlos Jobim
This song sets an example. No vocals necessary, thank you. Rhythm section and bassline are deceptively simple. A section, just flutes and trombones for the melodies, if you don't mind. The B section is a triplet figure on a harpsichord, which never fails to startle me. Jobim took a mechanical monstrosity from baroque music, co-opted it's tinkly melody and twisted it to his own purposes. When was the last time you enjoyed the sound of a harpsichord? I know, it's been a long time.

9. Fly Me To The Moon - Julie London
I had to throw in this bossa version of a classic standard because it was forever recontextualized for me after watching my first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Of course it wasn't originally a bossa, but it worked so well within that idiom. And when NGE adopted it, they kept it bossa. Now every time I hear Julie sing it, I can't help thinking of the Lance of Longinus, Ayanami Rei the cloned child-god , and Shinji choking Asuka in the Sea of LCL on the moon. What else would Julie be singing about?

8. Doralice - Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
Getz/Gilberto. The album of Albums. One of the greatest recordings in history. Hardpanned stereo, cloudy saxophone, "badapa chin - chin - chin, chin - chin - chin..." and those hi-hats. What is the drummer doing? He's just playing straight hihats, but the accents.... stunning! I just can't get those hihats out of my head. Talk about less being more..... this track doesn't speak—it implies and suggests.

7. Batidinha - Antonio Carlos Jobim
Another Jobim track gets the orchestral treatment. This one demonstrates even more virtuous virtuousity on the guitar and a drummer who managed to invent drum'n'bass programming decades before the first sampler appeared. Amon Tobin knows this track, I guarantee it. The precision of the accents are what give this track its brilliance and forward momentum. The guitar flicks tiny two- and three-note chords up into the clouds along with my moral conscience.

6. The Girl From Ipanema - Pizzicato Five
OK, so I cheated. It's not a classic recording, it's actually from that Lounge-a-Palooza compilation. But if anyone is qualified to deconstruct bossa and put it back together, it’s P5. With this recording, they manage to repay Japan's huge national debt to this genre, while simultaneously reclaiming the archetype of "elevator music" and exorcising the track's cultural demons. When the track chokes and drops into the B section, I hallucinate every time. True Story.

5. Manha de Carnaval - Luiz Bonfa
This song has been re-recorded many times, but all the versions before 1965 are perfect. Luiz Bonfa is like a Brazilian Erics Trip—strolling among the favelas, opening a bottle of aguardiente and shoving a forkful of peas and rice into his mouth, as the mulattos and octoroons play in the street. He hears the sound of birds outside his window, picks up his guitar, and plays two chords, a third, a fourth..... and the Black Orpheus hears him, and forgives all of Sao Paulo.

4. Agua de Beber - Astrud Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim
The clave. The subtle piano. The unison male and female vocal intro. The cymbals that are made from metal water. This piece is like a rice cake in its lightness. Two minutes and seventeen seconds is a lifetime of lightness. Then the turnaround, and rebirth.

3. Look to the Sky - Antonio Carlos Jobim
Can a trombone be a philosopher? Can he suggest, with his valveless torso, that we simply look to the sky for our answers, for our rain, for our youth and our nostalgia? I've never believed in a trombone so fiercely as when I heard this piece for the first time. A recording that cleanses the palate like a hot, weak tea. Let it cleanse yours.

2. Bim Bom - Joao Gilberto
No matter how many times Jobim's name appears above, although he is the superior composer, his voice never had a chance against Joao's. Jobim tried to sing like Joao but he never had a chance. Joao was as original as Billie Holiday. There, I said it. Joao, eccentric, pothead, magical conversationalist, voice without vibrato, come, Brazil has need of you.

1. Vai Levando - Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso
Exuberance. Exuberance on a record, it goes leading. Throughout this idyllic duet, there's such a celebration of the sheer sonic variety of the Portuguese language that even someone with no understanding can't help but be overwhelmed by the variety of tonality. I can't really say why this track should be number one on the list except for it's all-inclusive friendliness. This track likes you. Both Chico and Caetano are really happy to see you, and the track goes leading. The final verse sung in unison by the two of them raises sibilance to its most expressive. Hear and believe.

By: Francis Henville
Published on: 2004-10-01
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