By Don Heckman
Bossa nova at the half century mark? Can it really be true? The floating, rhythmic swing that Joao Gilberto extracted from Brazil’s visceral samba rhythms, and mixed with the soaring melodies and colorful harmonies of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s songs – fifty years old?
But it is true. The sound that seemed nothing more than the off-center, but amiable product of some hip, beachfront exchanges between jazz-influenced Brazilian players is now celebrating its golden anniversary. And the Hollywood Bowl acknowledged it Wednesday night with a lavish display of the music’s far reaching influence. Leading the way, guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, who was a teen-age participant in those innovative Ipanema days, assembled a program encompassing bossa nova’s capacity for seamless relationships with jazz, pop, classical and beyond.
Castro-Neves opened with an intimate rendering of the song that started it all, “Chega de Saudade” (known in the English language version as “No More Blues”), singing and playing guitar, immediately conjuring up bossa nova’s extraordinary blend of romance and rhythm.
Jazz pianist and singer Eliane Elias added new qualities — the urban intensity of her native Sao Paulo, her honey and whiskey vocals, and her inventive improvisations – to a trio of tunes reaching well beyond the orbit of bossa nova: the jaunty “Chiclete com Banana,” the Walter Wanderly hit from the ‘70s, “So Nice (Summer Samba)” and Dorival Caymmi’s briskly swinging “Doralice.”
The irrepressible Ivan Lins brought his own musical sophistication to the mix. Although he played acoustic piano rather than the keyboard synth that is so directly associated with his inimitable sound, he was, as always, an utterly convincing musical spokesperson for the subtleties of the Brazilian music that has flowed from the bossa nova wellspring. “Comecar de Nova” was offered in classic fashion; less familiar, but equally compelling, he sang his own “Desesperar Jamais” and “Lua Soberana.”
Yet another slant on the five decade influence of bossa nova on Brazil’s musical artist was apparent in the presence of Maria Rita, singing “Corcovado” with a feel for phrasing reminiscent of her mother, legendary singer Elis Regina.
Three other participants in this fully packed musical evening were not Brazilian, but their presence added an appropriately eclectic touch to the evening. Soprano Marisol Montalvo found dramatic qualities in Castro-Neves’ “Onde Esta Voce”; pop star Kenny Rankin applied his relaxed touch to “Desafinado” and “The Girl From Ipanema”; and Polish singer Anna Maria Jopek offered a very different slant to Baden Powell’s “Apelo.”
Arranger/conductor Vince Mendoza led a 40 piece orchestra in several atmospheric settings, and the singers were well served by the all-star backing of pianist Don Grusin, bassist Brian Bromberg, violinist Charlie Bisharat, saxophonist Gary Meek and drummer Alex Acuna.
No, it wasn’t all bossa nova, but it was all good. By evening’s end, the influence of this beach-inspired music – even beyond the obvious impact of Gilberto and Jobim – was apparent. As was the feeling that the bossa nova caravan still has many miles to travel.