Its easy to say bad things about the things you don’t like, whether its a person or an album of music. When you don’t like something, the words flow out like an angry current, casually laying waste to whatever stands in front of them. If you speak angrily to a flower, does it not wither somewhat?
…But when you love something, that’s a bit different, isn’t it? Often the words start to stumble, and, in trying to convey your love, you might be go quiet and be at a complete loss for words. If you’ve ever been truly in love, you might be able to relate to this sort of thing.
If you are writing a review of the classic 60’s bossa nova jazz album Getz / Gilberto, your fingers might slow down, even stop. Especially if you are listening to the album as you write. Inevitably something catches your attention, and you are carried off by it, whether its Astrud Gilberto‘s melancholy voice, Stan Getz‘s intimate saxophone incantations, a lovely trill of piano by master songwriter Antônio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto‘s unmistakable guitar chording, the understated genius of Sebastião Neto‘s bass playing, or the spritely drums provided by Milton Banana. One of these things is bound to get you…it always does. It is an album for listeners and lovers, and always has been.
Here is a famous live clip of “The Girl From Ipanema” from 1964, just prior to the album’s release, introducing the world to the demur Astrud Gilberto, while also featuring Stan Getz showing off his inimitable sax skills live for the viewing audience. And, with this, a classic is born.
Released in 1965, the Getz / Gilberto album took home several Grammy awards that year, including for Best Album, and several others including Best Engineered Album, of which this album is a prime example of sound production done right. This album is all about spaciousness, with every instrument being quite easy to distinguish, and that is a good thing, since every bit of this album is worth listening to.
It is, of course, all too easy now in retrospect to see why the world collectively fell in love with this music at this time. It is generally accepted that this is the album that is responsible for the global popularity of bossa nova music, as a style, and one might also say that jazz, up to this point, had never quite been this palatable or romantic as it was here on Getz / Gilberto.
Jazz being such a hip genre, it must have been somewhat refreshing for music fans to be introduced to a type of jazz that went out of its way to invite its listeners in. Like a warm natural spring, or a smile from a friendly face, Getz / Gilberto is always welcome and inviting.
In terms of jazz albums which have turned listeners on to the genre, there is perhaps no greater album than Getz / Gilberto, with the exception of Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis. As we know, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, was released six years prior, in 1959, and has always remained the standard for “cool” jazz records in America since its release. That said, Getz / Gilberto is an altogether different creation – exotic, light-hearted, and endlessly romantic.
As many have said, Kind Of Blue practically flaunts its musical genius, whereas Getz / Gilberto is like a different kind of musical poetry altogether – kind of like comparing a haiku to a stream of consciousness. Its not really fair to compare the two albums, really. They did not ask to be compared, after all. True, both are classics in their own way, but they do seem to warrant mention in the same paragraph as they both are responsible in some way for bringing jazz to the masses. To this day, new converts are turned on to jazz by Getz / Gilberto and this trend has been going since the album’s release.
All comparisons to other jazz albums aside, Getz / Gilberto is, on its own, a wonderful album and a must-listen for any serious music fan. Girl From Ipanema alone is a song that came along and with its own subdued charm, had its little way with the world. This song by itself is an undeniable tour-de-force, but it is only the tip of the iceberg with this album, which, although it is itself an exercise in restraint, fires on all cylinders the whole way through.
Astrud, with her soft, shy voice, comes in only two times on the album, but that voice is enough to break your heart with its loveliness and leave you wondering who she is. And, in the process, this melodious voice outlines the tenets of the bossa nova genre as a whole in terms of how a song can enrapture a listener and keep them captivated in its swaying rhythms.
Meanwhile Astrud’s husband and musical counterpart, João Gilberto, also serves as the albums main protagonist and represents much of the humble heart and soul of the soft samba music found here as the resident guitar strummer and provider of the lion’s share of the vocals. By definition, a samba is a dance and it involves intimate closeness, and this album really couldn’t do a better job at evoking this, in large part due to João.
But who are we kidding – the whole rhythm section on the album is impeccable and carries the album, and the effortless and melodic solos provided by sax master Stan Getz are just the icing on the cake.
Here are Tom and João, years later, playing their famous “Desafinado”…
On a track-by-track basis, I find it very difficult to play favorites with this album. For me, this album is simply something where you let it play through, and enjoy it. That said, every track on the album has its own personal charm. Some tracks are slower, softer…others more lively and you might even call them “upbeat”. If asked to be extremely specific about the tracks themselves or the sequence they are put in, my words begin to falter…I will just say that the sequence here is magic, and I think a big part of the reason people love this album, but to unlock the mysteries of the track sequence here is like taking a measuring tape out into the ocean and trying to measure waves. Its just ridiculous to try.
It has been over 50 years since this album was released, and Getz / Gilberto sounds just as timeless now as ever. Its like visiting a place that always has perfect weather, the best sunsets, and welcoming people, whether they be friends or strangers. Indeed, a 50th Anniversary edition came along in 2015, celebrating the album and giving the public more mixes to pour over, which of course is always a treat for us musos. And, despite much of the language being sung in Portuguese, this has in no way hampered the album’s connection with the english-speaking populace. If anything, it only deepens the allure.