I like MPB, the popular music of Brazil. Not all of it, not even most of it, but a lot of it. I like the combination of melody and rhythm, the floating feeling combined with a tough bluesiness they call saudade.

I’m not the only fan. Indeed, when bossa nova hit, the whole world became a fan of MPB. Fifty years later, bossa nova is still happening thanks in no small part to the important contributions of composer Tom Jobim, whose music has inspired a wide range of musicians.

This week we present eight versions of Jobim’s song “Wave.”
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Although not as well known as Astrud Gilberto, Nara Leao is credited as being the musical muse of bossa nova. Nara was a master of nuance plus her voice was more mature (i.e. heavier and less girlish) than Astrud’s. There is an unmissable seriousness in Nara’s articulations. For her the music is more than just entertainment. The version in the jukebox is from a hard-to-find Brazilian import Abraços e Beijinhos.
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Keyboardist Cesar Mariano and guitarist Romero Lubambo are mainstays of the MPB instrumental scene. Cesar is also widely admired as an arranger and producer. They are leaders of the Brazilian jazz scene. This version is like a quiet conversation speaking of intimate moments. It's taken from their Brazilian recording Duo - Ao Vivo.
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Sassy Sarah Vaughan is incomparable as a jazz singer. Stylistically she set standards and exemplified the marriage of operatic techniques with jazz. During the later part of her career, she leaned heavily on mannerisms that had become personal clichés although they'd been groundbreaking when she initiated them years before. Nevertheless, when Sassy dug deep she delivered brilliant jewels. This version is from Live in Japan, Volume 1, an early seventies concert available on iTunes.
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Jazz trumpeter Harry Sweets Edison, an alumnus of the Basie band, is featured next. He swings hard from note one. Sweets employs a harmon mute on his horn and does an excellent job in a straight ahead style that some of us have dubbed “blue collar jazz.” As a humorous aside, during his exposition, Sweets throws in quotes from four or five Porgy & Bess songs. This is from Live at the Floating Jazz Festival 95, an album by saxophonist Red Holloway who is heard announcing Sweets at the end of the selection.
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The queen of Brazilian MPB is Elis Regina (yeah, I know, Regina means queen). What Ella Fitzgerald was to jazz vocals, Elis is to MPB. Elis is not my personal favorite and certainly there are more powerful voices, but there is no doubt that she exemplified the strengths and high points of MPB. Her sound was sunny and as inviting as a Rio beach.
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Accompanying Elis is the Belgium wonder, Toots Thielmans who virtually wrote the book on harmonica jazz. Toots’ greatest achievement is to make his harmonica playing sound natural in the jazz context when the truth is that it’s a rarity. This is from their classic album Aquarela do Brasil.
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Pianist Ahmad Jamal is an innovator of the highest order. Although not as popular as Ramsey Lewis or Bob James, within jazz circles Jamal is both hugely influential and widely respected. His harmonic and rhythmic alterations, his use of space and pace directly led to major developments in jazz of the sixties. Taken from Jamal's album The Awakening, this version of “Wave” is a marvelous marriage of prodigious piano techniques and a romping arrangement that is far afield from the usual approach to this classic bossa nova. Other versions float, this one hurls at supersonic speed. It’s way out there and delightfully so.
BR6 is a vocal sextet. Brazil has a strong tradition of vocal groups and MPB sweet harmonies are great vehicles for multi-part vocal harmony. I happen to like this version better than those from some better known Brazilian groups. I appreciate the arrangement, which covers a lot of ground. This is taken from the self-titled album BR6.
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Singapore's Jacintha offers us an archetypal marriage of jazz and MPB. It’s amazing how right on this music from half a world away sounds. Jacintha's easy-going version of “Wave” is deceptively attractive. Taken from the album, The Girl From Bossa Nova, this music would go down great with the convention crowd in Las Vegas or a supper club in New York but there is some real substance here. It’s both light and heavy. Light in that easy swinging, easy to sing along to style that is the essence of popular music and heavy in the jazz elements of swinging and collective improvisation along with masterful phrasing of the melody. Like damn near every post-Billie Holiday jazz vocalist, Jacintha sings slightly behind the beat and uses microtones and subtle inflections to make her point. Plus, the whole ensemble is wonderfully and warmly recorded. The engineer did a great job of capturing the beauty of the acoustic instruments, especially the acoustic guitar, the bass, the snare drum, and the vocal sounds of the musicians scatting softly to themselves.

Come to think of it, as this overview makes clear, what I really like is the marriage of MPB and jazz. The resulting hybrid merges the best of two worlds into something different than either while still appealing to both audiences, which, after all, is one of the implicit goals of popular music.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

            Nice collection             

I'm as big a fan of bossa nova as Kalamu is. (Maybe bigger.) So of course I'm already familiar with quite a few versions of this Jobim tune. Of course, I can always count on Kalamu to come with the unexpected. I've probably heard four or five versions of "Wave" but not a single one of these eight so I'll take them one at a time.

The Mariano/Lubambo cover is great. Very sexy, very understated. I know the image I'm about to describe is the anti-thesis of Rio, but this version makes me think of sitting comfortably in a warm room with snow falling just outside the window. Gorgeous work from Mariano and Lubambo.

As Kalamu implied, Elis Regina can be hit or miss. Her album with Jobim (Elis & Tom) is a classic, of course, and I have a lot of other stuff by her that I dig, but her music can also sound over-produced and too cleaned up. That's the case with this version of "Wave." For me, it's a skip. I'm also not really feeling the Sarah Vaughan. Sarah's a wonderful singer, of course, but this performance is too Vegas for me. It's a supper club rendition. It sounds like Sarah is gilding a lilly.

Sweets Edison. Now we're talking. This is the kind of jazz that only cats who've been playing forever can play. It's simple but it's not easy. It swings, of course (old cats always swing), but it's also got that nice bossa feel even though it's obviously more in an American jazz bag than a Brazilian one. I like it.

Nara Leao. Ha! Now that's my thing. I loooove old-style bossa. It's the anachronistic feel of the sprightly, sped-up beat mixed with the lonely, melancholic feel of the vocals. Perfect. I wonder though when this version was recorded. It can't be all that old. (Meaning, I don't think it's from the fifties or sixties.) First, the arrangement is all over the place. It sounds more contemporary than most classic bossa. And second, the song is kinda long. Most of the ancient bossa I have is less than three minutes long. Then again, Nara died in the eighties (I think) so it can't be that recent either. More info on this one will definitely be appreciated.

Ahmad Jamal's version is a surprise. I was ready not to like it. (Don't know why. For some unknown reason, the phrases 'Ahmad Jamal' and 'bossa nova' just didn't sound like a match to me.) It's a good cover though. First, I have to comment on the very interesting bassline. That's something not found in the original. Also, Ahmad's playing is brilliant. So precise yet so pretty. Another good one.

The vocal harmony cover got an instant skip from me. I never did like either Take 6 or Manhattan Transfer and this version sounds like it could be a meeting of the minds between those two groups. It also does away completely with the lilt and melancholy of bossa. For me, that's most of the appeal. I don't like this one at all.

I don't think Jacintha's version is the best of these, but I do like hearing Jobim's pretty melody matched with English-language lyrics. We've been talking a lot about pleasant music lately and this version is an excellent example of just that. Also, Kalamu is correct about the sound quality. The engineers did a fantastic job of shaping this recording. It sounds like the vocalist and the players could be right in your room with you.

All in all, this is quite a nice collection of jazz/bossa. I'm with it. :-) 

—Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, December 10th, 2007 at 1:13 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “JACINTHA / “Wave””

Stephanie Renee Says:
December 11th, 2007 at 6:49 pm

Gasp! Mtume, no haps on Take 6 or Manhattan Transfer??? That hurts my heart. I’m normally right there with you on a lot of your "new school" observations, but not appreciating the vocal superiority of a group like Take 6 I just cannot understand. Digging the mix of music you all have offered this week.

           Mtume says           

Take 6 is a fantastically talented vocal group, obviously. I guess I can say I appreciate what they do without actually liking it. It’s just a personal taste thing. I’m not denying at all how well they sing and peform. … Manhattan Transfer too. They’re good. I just don’t like it.


Nila Says:
October 27th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Well. This is about Elis. Sunny and inviting? We Brazilians would never have thought of Elis that way. To us she was more like a skilled and precise warrior. Once she sang a song, it was done sung. Not because of the power of her voice (which she had, just listen to her ‘Gracias a la Vida’), but because of ‘afinacao’, a concept highly important in Brazilian music, which I find hard to translate into English. If you want sunny go for Baby Consuelo, also a favorite of mine.

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