Samba Do Astronauta
Tem Do De Mim
Samba De Jose
Black Orpheus Medley
Vai De Vaz
Caminho De Casa
Chauvinism is as
reprehensible and as expendable in music as it is in politics,
painting or plumbing. Nevertheless, when an esthetic point has to be made, one
that involves a particular group of artists and the very special form they have
created, it is both agreeable and enlightening to observe them under the same
musical roof, with no outsiders on hand.
This is not an oblique way of saying "Give bossa nova back to the Brazilians" or
"Yankee go home." It is merely a reminder that no matter how much wonderful
music may have derived, in altered style, from the Brazilian popular music that
invaded the United States three or four years ago, there remains nevertheless
a substantial body of musicians who are entitled to call themselves the original,
the genuine article. Such a group is Sergio Mendes and his Brasil '65 ensemble.
The concept behind the formation of this combo was a logical one. It entailed a
desireto present to American audiences an all-Brazilian, self-contained unit,
packaged in Rio for export to a country that has heard most of its Brazilian
music played by men who have never been farther South than South Bend.
Sergio Mendes was born February 11, 1941 in Niteroi, which is more or less the
Oakland of Rio, just across the bay. (Contrary to intelligence in an earlier album,
Ipanema is not a town; it is merely the name of a nearby beach.) Since bringing
his show here in November of 1964, Sergio has lived in the U.S. He now makes
his home with his wife and infant son in Studio City, Calif.
Sergio's bassist, 34-year-old Sebastiao Neto, is also from Niteroi. Chico Batera,
21, comes from Governor Island, near Rio, and Paulinho, whose full name is
Paulino Magalhaes, is a Rio-born Los Angeles percussionist added specially
for this occasion.
When this live date was taped at "El Matador," the popular Latin-pop-and-jazz
music club in San Francisco, the group was completed by the 21-year-old
Wanda Maria Sa, a Rio girl professionally known as Wanda De Sah, and by
Maria Rosa Cannellas, professionally known as Rosinha de Valenca or Little
Rose of Valenca, after her home town. Rosinha, who is 23, was inspired by
Baden Powell to take up the guitar; she has a phenomenal ear but cannot read
music and does not know the name of a single chord.
There is a little confusion concerning the discoverers of the group. Actually it
was a music lover named Dick Adier, now their manager, who helped Sergio
to assemble the Brasil '65 unit in Rio and bring it to this country. Sergio also
says, "I will never forget the help I had from my godfather, Mario Dias Costa,
in the Cultural Division of the Brazilian Foreign Office, who aided us financially
in getting started; and from Raul Smandeck, the Brazilian Consul in Los Angeles,
who helped us when we arrived here."
Tern do de Mim features Wanda and Sergio. Written by Carlos Lyra, it is a
typically relaxed and charming Brazilian melody. 0 Morro, sung by Wanda,
means "the hill" and tells a wistful story about the poor people who live in the
slums but are, within prescribed limitations, happy in their sadness (like the
blues people who are pictured as laughing just to keep from crying).
Arrastao is a song about fishermen casting their nets on the waters. Written by
de Moraes and Eduardo Lobo, a new melodist, it won a $5,000 award in Brazil
recently as best new song of the year. My Portuguese being roughly on a level
with my Swahili, I cannot vouch for the lyrics, but the melodic contours and the
harmony have a unique charm, and there is a suspenseful quality to the main
statement. The performance has a form and variety ofmoods and tempos that
lend additional strength to Wanda's interpretation.
The Black Orpheus medley opens with a delicate and simple treatment of
Mahna de Carnaval by Rosinha, in a melancholy mood in which Sergio and
the rhythm section are soon involved. A bold percussion interlude spans the
bridge into Samba de Orfeu, Sergio's delineation of which invited immediate
recognition and applause from the generally quiet and attentive audience.
Wanda, with unison vocal assistance from her colleagues, completes the
medley with A Felicidade, a paradoxically minor-mode song about happiness.
Samba do Astronauta, which is not dedicated to the Wright Brothers, is a Baden
Powell melody that serves as a delightful vehicle for the dexterity of Miss de
Valenca. The mood it was designed to evoke does not involve the space ship but
rather the view of the earth as seen from beyond. There are lyrics, I am told, by
de Moraes, but in this version Rosinha manages to tell the story most effectively
with her own genius-tipped fingers.
Vai de Vez, which means get lost, or don't come back, was composed by Menescal
and has a particularly easy, legato rhythmic feeling that seems to me to symbolize
the whole mood of bossa nova, or at least the most essentially Brazilian elements of
this often-distorted idiom. Rosinha plays the melody just as it was written; the only
ad libbing is offered by Sergio, whose single-note lines have some of the delicacy
of a John Lewis.
Samba de Jose, featuring Rosinha, was composed by a fel-low-guitarist, Jose
Menezes. As in so much of the album, the rhythm is understated yet never wants
for virility (if one dare ascribe such a quality to a group that includes Miss Valenca).
Sergio's light touch and improvisational flair can be scrutinized in Noa Noa, his
own composition. ("I named it for the island where Gauguin went.") There is more
of Mendes, incidentally, in his own album, The Swinger from Rio, on Atlantic 1434.
Caminho de Casa, meaning the road home, was composed by Joao Donate, a
pianist from Brazil who
now lives in Los Angeles. The very basic chords here will
sound familiar to those who have heard some of Vince Guaraldi's work.
"I don't like to play a lot of notes or use the familiar jazz cliches," says
observation the truth of which is reflected in his relaxedtreatment of Joao Donato's
Jodel. This track offers a moment in the spotlight to bassist Sebastiao Neto, whose
ideas seem equally unpretentious. This is, all in all, the most charming instrumental
track in the album.
Reza, the theme number of the Brasil '65 unit, is described by Sergio as "based
an African prayer, and with lyrics by Rui Guerra to a melody by Eduardo Lobo."
The main melodic figure, consisting of only two notes, has a haunting quality that
leaves people singing it as they walk out of El Matador-or out of the living room as
they finish playing this fascinating album.
Brasil '65 has undergone one or two changes in personnel since this session
took place, but the spirit remains the same. Now that we have Sergio Mendes
permanently among us, we can only hope that he will continue to remind us North
American adaptors and imitators that his music doesn't have to concern itself about
whether it sounds authentic. It was born that way. May it continue to manifest its
characteristics in Brasil '66, Brasil '67 and so forth far into the Pan-American
Copyright 1965 Atlantic Recording Corporation