Antonio Carlos Jobim, known to some as the Brazilian George Gershwin, is best-known as the writer of 1960s hit The Girl from Ipanema. But in 1970, several years after the bossa nova craze had died down, Jobim released what would be regarded as his greatest album, and an altogether exceptional musical achievement.
Recorded in Hackensack, New Jersey, in the same studio as a hundred wonderful Blue Note jams, Jobim was a million miles from the sunny Brazilian beaches of his youth. Looking a little like Belgian performer Jacques Brel on the LP cover, Jobim played guitar and piano throughout, and contributed vocals to Brazil, the only song he didn’t write for the album. Ron Carter, who had worked with everyone from Coleman Hawkins to Miles Davis and George Benson, looked after the bass, locking in nicely to the Latin rhythms.
The opening song Tereza My Love, written for Jobim’s wife, sets the mood, taking the listener far from the daily grind to a place where the beach meets the forest and the waves wash away the cares of the world. The interplay between the trombone and the flutes builds on the bones of the bossa rhythm, and Jobim’s piano solo takes the whole thing to a cool-jazz level before the wind instruments transport you back to the beach.
The Gershwin influence is felt most strongly in the introduction to Amparo, which takes on a None but the Lonely Heart-vibe, and the dreamy music-hall piano and sweeping strings of Choro, which finds its groove when the flutes join in the final minute.
Brazil kicks along at a lively pace, jaunty and corny-sounding until Jobim’s vocal drops and echoes a hint of the Beatles’ Sun King over an insistent rhythm. By the end you’ll be humming “do-do-do do do da-da” for days.
By far the most interesting song on the album is God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun. You can hear the prince of peace duel with the prince of darkness, taking turns to impose order and chaos. A soprano sax barks out Coltrane-style sheets of sound, while the overall effect is Bitches Brew-meets-hard bop, as the whole mess ends on an ominous chord.
Jobim’s entire work is a masterpiece, and psychedelic in the truest sense of the word – it is mind-expanding. Every twist and turn leads to a new delight, and repeated listening reveals more and more subtle touches that previously went unnoticed. This is music to wake up for, music to fall in love to, music that tricks your mind into thinking you just might be the star of your very own film.