Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd - Jazz Samba - Review
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critics' view

The year 2014 marks fifty-two years after the classic album Jazz Samba, was recorded. There is a very good reason for the extraordinary longevity of this album years after Samba and Bossa Nova was invented by Brasilians. Stan Getz is on it, leading a small ensemble on what is easily one of the finest recordings in this ineffable Brasilian idiom. First of all the tenor saxophonist seemingly developed his haunting, ethereal tone just so he could negotiate this music. Then it was his ability to hang the notes he played in curved air so they would resonate, linger and captivate the soul. And finally Mr. Getz’s seemed to have been born with the God-given grace to negotiate complex and beguiling rhythms. It seemed that the saxophonist had a magical feel for the rhythms of Samba and Bossa Nova; the tantalizing backbeat that captivated continents and mesmerized a generation of musicians and dancers. So it ought never to be a surprise that Mr. Getz joined Joao Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim and a clutch of legendary musicians from Brasil in becoming instrumental in spreading the Bossa Nova gospel. This was a rare privilege accorded only to Brasilians and to Mr. Getz. On this and a handful of other albums he never disappointed.

Jazz Samba is tantalisingly short; almost painfully so. It is therefore de rigueur to hang on to every note, every glorious phrase and the lilt of each and every magnificent line played by Stan Getz. Charlie Byrd is also a big part of the magnificence of this album. Although he plays a completely different instrument—whose persuasions are marked by dramatically different timbres—he somehow manages to become a doppelgänger of the tenor saxophonist. His chords are slanted, gliding off the strings with deft fingering and making elliptical shapes around the notes that Mr. Getz plays. His attack is gentle; almost stealthily so. He is intrinsic to Mr. Getz’s motives, following the chordal inversions as a leonine hunter would track its prey. And just when it seems that he and his guitar would overcome Mr. Getz’s tender saxophone, he holds back and retreats into a hypnotic rhythm that bobs and weaves in harmony with the rocketing melody. Listen to the opening bars of “Desafinado” and to its mid-section after Stan Getz is retreating from his solo and be amazed at the grace and passionate embrace of guitar and tenor saxophone. The ebullient explosion of the tenor after a bass and drum interlude forces the chart into overdrive before returning to its lulling rhythm.

The gentle reminder that most of the rest of the other charts are devolutions of folk music comes almost immediately after “Desafinado”. And the music is played with impish wit, with the musicians even playfully naming a song such as “Samba Dees Days.” But the puckishness is never separated from the sublime and venerable nature of the melodies. Then there are the enchanted charts where Mr. Getz loses himself in splendid labyrinthine melodies. “O Pato,” “E Luxo Só” and “Bahia” are dreamlike and exemplify this. Finally there is music that captures the elemental longing of Brasilian longing. This can be heard in “Samba Triste” and elsewhere. It is impossible to find a wrong note or an ill-advised motif anywhere on this album. And thus it is possible to understand why the beauty of the album will always remain eternal.

Raul da Gama
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