It was always easy to love Tom Jobim‘s music as it captured the very essence of cool; the exotic new Brazil of the 1960′s and 70′s. While the music may not have captured the grim realities of the barrio’s, it did speak powerfully of the hope and dreams of a new generation of educated hip, urban Brazilians. Showcasing endless white-sand beaches, beautiful bikini clad girls and lost love under palm trees. This was the era of ultra exciting modernist architecture as evidenced in the wonderfully executed but somehow surreal Brasilia city. This city was the revolutionary vision of three men of genius and they carved it out of of the jungle in a mere four years. The President’s futuristic dreams were eventually overrun by greedy money men, a military dictatorship, and powerful elites, but the legacy of Brasilia remains. These visionaries were President – Juscelino Kubitschek, architect -Oscar Niemeyer and urbanist- Lucio Costa.
It was into this hopeful world where anything seemed possible, that Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto appeared as forces of nature. Before long they reached larger North American audiences via Jazz super-star Stan Getz (and others). The stories surrounding the Getz/Gilberto (‘Girl from Ipanema’) session are well known; suffice to say that Astrud Gilberto wife of the talented and co-credited Joao Gilberto was not supposed to be part of the session, but was reluctantly included at the last minute. From 60′s house-wife to stardom in the blink of an eye.
It is a later session produced by Rudy Van Gelder (for Creed Taylor’s CTI label) that I wish to focus on, for it was this ‘Wave‘ album that brought the song ‘wave‘ to my attention. I just love this song and I have a number of Jazz versions – Bossa Nova and otherwise. It swings like crazy and it is also highly evocative of the era and genre. As with many Jobim albums the recording is a heady mix of unashamed romanticism juxtaposed with a hint of minimalism (perhaps like Brasilia itself). This is in part due to arranger Claus Ogerman (who remembered to leave open spaces for the individual musicians) but the sense of unexpected space in the midst of lush orchestration speaks more of Jobim’s genius. He was not only a truly great composer, but his spidery piano lines and urgent guitar rhythms are also miniatures of perfection – not a single note too many. For me ‘wave’ captures the essence of Copacabna beach, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia.
Jobim’s own renditions of ‘wave‘ changed with the years; with one version on the Warner Brothers ‘Terra Brasilis‘ album sounding closer to Delius than to Jazz – that is until you here the voicings. The ‘Wave‘ album cover is also a bookmark of its times – iridescent lime green sky – purple Giraffe. I have included an informal version by Tom and a few of his friends – strange 60′s clothes, but bluesy and perfect.
In the late sixties I saw the French film ’Our Man in Rio‘ staring Jean Paul Belmondo at least three times. I have not seen it since then but would love to revisit it. It may now appear corny as many films do with the passing of time. That vision of sixties Brazil is harder to tarnish in my head as I instantly picture the exotic and experience a whiff of nostalgia when I hear Jobim’s’wave‘.