The beguiling Brazilian sounds of the bossa nova have long been a part of the repertoire from Cherry Red’s El Records imprint. In the second half of 2017, the label released two more slipcased double-disc collections celebrating the music that – much like that girl from Ipanema – makes you go, “Aaaaah.” João Gilberto and the Stylists of Bossa Nova Sing Antonio Carlos Jobim pairs the most famous vocalist and most famous composer of the genre in one package, while The Women of Bossa Nova Volume One highlights recordings from four artists: Caterina Valente, Alaide Costa, Maysa, and Dolores Duran. All of the recordings on both packages date to 1957-1962.
João Gilberto began recording in his native Brazil as early as 1951, but his earliest work was mere prelude to the seismic contributions he would make to world music later in the decade. “Bim-Bom,” written by Gilberto in 1956 but not recorded until 1958, has been considered the first true bossa nova song. The artist’s hushed, intimate style of voice-and-guitar epitomized the breezy yet sophisticated genre which refined the traditional sound of samba into something altogether more intimate. Identified by gentle acoustic guitar and sometimes piano, and often adorned with subtle string or horn accents, bossa nova de-emphasized the more percussive aspects of samba. Instead, an emphasis was placed on the inviting melodies and rich harmonies. Gilberto’s 1959 album Chega de Saudade, named after a composition by his friends Jobim and de Moraes, was the first bossa nova LP, and ignited the genre. Once the soundtrack to Black Orpheus (also in 1959) was released, featuring the work of Gilberto, Jobim, de Moraes, and Luis Bonfá, bossa nova was poised for its international breakthrough.
João Gilberto and the Stylists of Bossa Nova Sing Antonio Carlos Jobim begins with the compilation João Gilberto Interpreta Tom Jobim, appropriately enough as it’s impossible to discuss bossa nova without invoking Jobim. Its 14 songs comprise some of Jobim’s most famous compositions, all in their original Portuguese, including “How Insensitive, “”One Note Samba,” “Desafinado (Off-Key),” and “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars.” Jobim produced and played on all of these tracks, joined just by a small band of trombone, flute, drums, and percussion; Gilberto, of course, played guitar himself. The first disc is then rounded out by performances of Jobim’s soft and slinky classics by Sylvia Telles (herself the subject of a past El anthology), Lucio Alves with Telles, Dick Farney and Baden Powell, and others. The second disc features a number of artists who crossed over to international success such as organist Walter Wanderley and guitarist Laurindo Almeida, as well as Americans inspired by the genre including Vince Guaraldi, Herbie Mann, and Jon Hendricks.
El followed up this set with The Women of Bossa Nova Volume One, drawing from beyond Brazil. Italian singer Caterina Valente, born in 1931 into a family of entertainers, made her first recordings in 1953, and within just a couple of years, her popularity was evident on a world stage. She would go on to become a favorite guest of Dean Martin and Perry Como in the U.S., and popularize music of the upbeat “schlager” style in Germany. On fourteen tracks here, she sings famed Brazilian melodies from Jobim, Ary Barroso, Dori Caymmi, and others in English, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Spanish. (Valente went on later in the sixties to work with German arranger-conductor Claus Ogerman, a bossa specialist who arranged, among other credits, Jobim’s first collaboration with Frank Sinatra.) Valente is joined on Disc One by Alaide Costa’s 1960 set of Modern Gems, arranged by Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, while the second disc turns to singer-songwriter-actress Maysa’s recordings of the Jobim songbook as well as a quartet of songs written and sung by Dolores Duran. The collection is rounded out by interpretations of Duran’s songs by other artists including Dick Farney and Lucio Alves.
Both of these releases (made possible due to current U.K. public domain laws) are housed in slipcases, with each CD held in a mini-LP-style jacket. Booklets offer liner notes and basic credits including year of original release but not discographical annotation. These titles not only feature a number of rarities that should be of interest to jazz and popular vocal fans, but they bring listeners to the ground floor of bossa nova with compelling authenticity. You’ll find order links below, and track listings at each of the Amazon pages!