You'll be dancing with them too before the night is over.
Music Lover: ALAN KURTZ
REDWOOD CITY, CA, USA
-- September, 17, 2003
Before communing with nature and forming musical partnerships with whales, wolves and dolphins, Paul Winter (born 1939) cashed in on the bossa nova craze. His first such recording came in 1962, the year Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd launched it all with their immortal "Jazz Samba," the only jazz album ever to hit #1 on the pop charts. After that, many musicians jumped on the bandwagon, although a few had reservations. Herbie Mann, for one, denounced bossa nova as a fraud because it was not authentically Brazilian, and then released "Do the Bossa Nova with Herbie Mann." By the summer of '64, when Paul Winter recorded the albums on this twofer, the fad was fading, as Beatles displaced bossas.
Yet 40 years after the flood, this music sounds remarkably fresh. "The Sound of Ipanema" consists of songs written and performed by Carlos Lyra, singing almost entirely in Portuguese. One might ask, of an album marketed primarily to a North American audience, why not sing in English? (Judging by "Lobo Bobo," Lyra's English was excellent.) The answer, of course, is that bossa novas were presented in Brazilian Portuguese, despite its being understood by a fifth as many people as English, because the native tongue was part of the mystique, like French restaurants or Swedish cinema.
In any event, "Rio," by contrast, is exclusively instrumental (except for some brief wordless vocalizing on "Saudade"), which makes it more accessible. And speaking of instruments, the copasetic blend on both albums of alto sax and acoustic guitar reminds one that American jazz and Brazilian sambas actually coalesced gracefully years before Getz & Byrd struck gold, with the 1958 Pacific Jazz recordings of Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida (more spontaneous than their 1953 sessions in the same vein). However, in his liner notes for "Rio," lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, keen to legitimatize his own paternity of the genre, derides Shank & Almeida. "What was called 'Samba-Jazz' from the West Coast," he writes without naming names, "had nothing whatsoever to do with Bossa Nova. It was only a laminated hybrid." Maybe so, but as laminated hybrids go, it was damned lovely, and swung, too.
Which also describes "Rio." Sticking close to the melody and playing with a wholesome sureness, Winter wisely emphasizes feeling over technique. There's not an extraneous note on either of these albums. For all its commerciality, the straightforward, unadorned, contagiously romantic music made by Paul Winter and friends still enchants. "Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova," wrote Tony Hatch in Petulia Clark's 1964 pop hit "Downtown." "You'll be dancing with them too before the night is over."