Review: Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Sinatra/Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings”
“Tall and tan and young and handsome…” Those lyrics to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Boy from Ipanema” kicked off a bossa nova boom that saw virtually every noteworthy vocalist and jazz musician of the 1960s recording in the mellow Brazilian style. Frank Sinatra, though, was hardly one to follow a trend for hipness’ sake. By 1967, the label he founded, Reprise, was turning its sights to Laurel Canyon and Haight-Ashbury, and the bossa craze was on the wane. Sinatra would, as always, record on his own terms. An album teaming Sinatra with Jobim himself (often called the Gershwin of bossa nova) was proposed for the label, and on January 30, 1967, sessions began for what would become Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. That hallowed album and its shelved sequel form the basis of Sinatra/Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings, released this week on Concord (CRE-32026) as part of their ongoing Frank Sinatra Collection.
To these ears, Sinatra’s recordings with Jobim are his finest recordings of the 1960s, and quite possibly some of his finest ever. The vocalist challenged himself to sing in a new idiom, and his soft, hushed vocals are among his most sensual and romantic. His phrasing and always-impeccable interpretive powers emphasized the wistful, longing quality of Jobim’s compositions (such as a gender-reversed “Girl from Ipanema” that still stands today as one of the song’s definitive renditions) as well as of some hand-picked standards rearranged to fit with the album’s prevailing mood: Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You,” Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners,” Wright and Forrest’s “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” which Sinatra infuses with great yearning. Jobim’s guitar and gentle, complementary backing vocals bring his partner into a world so far-removed from Nelson Riddle’s insistent brass or Gordon Jenkins’ lush, sweeping strings, the LP might as well have been called Another Side of Frank Sinatra! FAS & ACJ was an instant success, even in the changing musical landscape, and work began on a belated sequel two years later. For this album, to be simply titled Sinatra/Jobim, arranger/conductor Claus Ogerman was replaced by young Brazilian star-on-the-rise Eumir Deodato as arranger and Hollywood vet Morris Stoloff as conductor. Deodato’s work is slightly less relaxed than Ogerman’s, a bit more swinging, but equally effective and authentic. There are no items in Sinatra’s catalogue anything like the tricky, rhythmic “Drinking Water (Aqua de Beber)” or “One Note Samba (Samba de Uma Nota So).”
But all wasn’t well with this sequel. Sinatra felt great unease about 3 of the 10 songs recorded for the sequel; his “suggestion” to kill the album was of course taken seriously. Despite the presence of some beautiful songs Sinatra would make his own (such as the gorgeous, melodically complex “Wave” which he recites almost effortlessly), the album was shelved. The seven acceptable tracks would form Side 2 of a hastily-assembled album in 1972 entitled Sinatra & Company; the other side would be filled with Don Costa-arranged pop fare like “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” and “Close to You.” Needless to say, one side intrigued fans far more than the other. The remaining 3 songs would trickle out over the years on foreign compilations and finally on the magnificent Complete Reprise Studio Recordings “suitcase” box set (Reprise 47045). The Concord CD marks the first time all 20 Jobim collaborations have been brought together on one disc. (The duo would record one further duet for Sinatra’s 1994 Duets II, but that version of “Fly Me to the Moon” hasn’t been included here. Truthfully, it would have disrupted the vibe of the 20 recordings present.) Does Concord’s new package do these recordings justice? Find out after the jump!
There is much to recommend on the new set. Foremost are the new liner notes penned by Stan Cornyn, the writer, ad man and music executive whose snappy prose set the tone for the late 1960s success of Reprise and Warner Bros. Records. Rarely has a set of liner notes been so captivating, as Cornyn places the reader as flies on the wall during the sessions, and finally provides frank details as to Sinatra’s discomfort with releasing the second album. Cornyn’s notes provide fair defense of Sinatra’s decision, as well as delineating why those 10 songs should have eventually seen the light of day. Cornyn’s patented hipster lingo is in place, which is totally appropriate for the era being described. I was literally disappointed when the copious notes concluded. The essay is accompanied by many terrific session photos as well as the original album artwork for the abandoned album (as well as the original photo that offbeat cover was based upon.)
More controversial is the choice by Concord and Frank Sinatra Enterprises to present both albums in new mixes by Larry Walsh. (This is consistent with all of the deluxe album reissues offered by FSE of late, including My Way and Strangers in the Night.) Walsh’s mixes here, as on those other releases, often extend the fades of the tracks, bring Sinatra’s vocals to the fore, and expose instrumental parts he felt were buried in the mixes. As such, this release doesn’t accurately represent FAS & ACJ as originally released, and as with the other releases in the FSE series, it has superceded the originals in terms of availability. Some internet Frankophiles have already released detailed lists of changes made by Walsh to the songs, including alternate vocals (largely clams by Sinatra edited from the original LP and replaced with splices from other takes) and instrumental solos, reportedly totaling 52 seconds over 4 separate tracks.
In other words: if you have the Reprise suitcase or the original, hard-to-find CD reissues of FAS & ACJ and Sinatra & Company (with 7 of the 10 tracks intended for Sinatra/Jobim), hold onto them. This new release offers alternate material which should make it essential for any Sinatra collector. For those not familiar with the original tracks, I urge you: don’t hesitate to pick this up. The music remains among the best ever recorded by the Chairman in his long career. The arrangements are both timeless and evocative of a period of phenomenal invention in Brazilian music that is still influential. (American indie pop artist Josh Rouse in March released El Turista, a bossa-tinged album that owes much to Jobim.) The package is top-notch, with period-style cover art, Cornyn’s entertaining notes, and generally good sound courtesy of Dan Hersch’s mastering. The bottom line, though, is the music; the adventurous, sensitive, romantic, stunning recordings of Messrs. Sinatra and Jobim are essential to any serious fan’s library. Their re-entry into the catalog is cause for celebration.