:: These reviews were originally published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


The pleasure of hearing him again

Joćo Gilberto sings the same songs,

Daniella Thompson

6 October 2002

Teatro Morlacchi in Perugia
(note Brazilian flag on 3rd box tier)

When a Brazilian asks me how I became interested in Brazilian music, I always say, “through Joćo Gilberto.” A genius of popular song and quite possibly Brazil’s greatest gift to the world, Joćo was also my teacher. Would I have ever heard of Ary Barroso, Dorival Caymmi, or Noel Rosa were it not for Joćo? Most likely not.

For more years than I care to count, Joćo was a seductive voice in the background of my musical world. It wasn’t until the late ’80s, with the entrance of CDs into my home, that I set out to obtain every album he had released. It wasn’t difficult, as Joćo’s output had never been ample—his entire official production between 1959 and 2000 amounts to a mere fourteen and a half albums (the half is Getz/Gilberto vol. 2).

Ever since he began marking the 40th anniversary of Bossa Nova, Joćo has been accused of recording the same songs over and over again. How true is this assessment? His signature tune, “Chega de Saudade,” received four recordings over the past four decades, as did “Rosa Morena” and “O Pato”; “Meditaēćo” and “Corcovado” were recorded three times each; “Garota de Ipanema,” twice. Not an unreasonable situation for an artist who obsessively continues to delve into his classic repertoire, extracting a myriad interpretations from the same well-selected songs over a lifelong career. Among all the songs associated with Joćo, “Desafinado” is the one most oft repeated, with six recordings until this year.

The count for the above songs has just gone up a notch, for they all appear in Live at Umbria Jazz, recorded in 1996 but released this year. In the tribe of Joćo’s fans, I belong to the sect that awaits his next album hoping for new songs—not brand-new songs, of course, but songs Joćo has never recorded. I might as well tell you right now that there are none of those on Live at Umbria Jazz. Does it matter? Not really.

Joćo Gilberto on stage at the sold-out Teatro Morlacchi is at his seductive best, which doesn’t necessarily mean he’s whispering. For the appreciative European audience, the singer was more than willing to exercise his vocal chords, express a wide range of emotions, and even produce the occasional vibrato, a taboo for most of his career. Moreover, CD listeners who were forced to crank up the volume in order to hear Joćo Voz e Violćo (2000) will be glad to know that both voice and guitar are captured with excellent clarity on Live at Umbria Jazz.

All the songs on the disc were composed between 1942 and 1963. These 21 years cover Joćo’s formative period, from his childhood in Juazeiro to the early years of his solo career. Eight of the fourteen songs were written by Dorival Caymmi or Tom Jobim, all within a narrow period in each composer’s career. Caymmi is represented with “Rosa Morena” (1942), “Doralice” (1945), “Lį Vem a Baiana” (1947), and “Saudade da Bahia” (1957); Jobim with “Chega de Saudade” (1958), “Desafinado” (1959), “Corcovado” (1960), and “Garota de Ipanema” (1962). The four Caymmi songs had been hits before Joćo recorded them—three were released while he was in his teens. The Jobim songs, on the other hand, were all launched by Joćo himself.

So what’s different here?

Joćo opens with “Isto Aqui o Que É?,” a 1942 Ary Barroso samba he recorded twice before—the first time in 1985 at the Montreux Jazz Festival. In Montreux he sang it from the beginning (Isso aqui o que é?/ É um pouquinho de Brasil, Iaiį), while here he starts with the refrain (Olha o jeito nas cadeiras que ela sabe dar). The new interpretation is more intimate and direct, as if tenderly courting the morena while watching her dance.

“De Conversa em Conversa” (1947) was previously recorded by Joćo in 1970, while he was living in Mexico. The Umbria interpretation is looser, more casual and more inflected. “Pra Que Discutir com Madame?” sounds like a samba that would have been made popular by the vocal groups of the 1940s, but in fact, neither of the two previous recordings (Janet de Almeida’s in 1945 and Valter Damasceno’s in 1956) garnered the slightest success. The samba didn’t become well known until Joćo recorded it in the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival. That performance was measured and steady. Here he gives himself free rein to play with phrasing, division, tempo, and mood.

No performance in Italy would be complete without “Malaga” and “Estate,” both picked up by Joćo in the summer of 1963, when he was performing in Viareggio. “Malaga” was one of Italy’s hits that year (as was “The Girl From Ipanema,” recorded by Tom Jobim in The Composer of Desafinado Plays). Joćo wasn’t quick to record either song—“Estate” would appear on Amoroso (1977), “Malaga” on Joćo (1991)—but they’ve since become staples in his repertoire. In Umbria, “Malaga” is given a particularly romantic vocal delivery, while the guitar goes its own way, at times producing only a single chord. The big news in “Estate” is that Joćo makes an effort to keep to the Italian pronunciation and actually sings rose and not hose, although he persists in turning tutte le cose into tutti le cosi. Still, how can one resist his rendition, unsurpassed in countless recordings by countless artists?

The Caymmis and the Jobims are gathered in a block that is interrupted only by “O Pato” (1960), which, surprisingly, Joćo manages to make sound fresh with lightheartedness and the well-placed vibrato (has he heard Trio Esperanēa’s version?). Although this block represents a good number of his greatest hits, it benefits from nuanced interpretations that never repeat what has been done before.

Live at Umbria Jazz may not provide the shock value of the landmark Live in Montreux, but it matches it in quality, which is something that can’t be said for the butchered live CD Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar (1994). If you love Joćo Gilberto, you shouldn’t be without it.

Joćo Gilberto: Live at Umbria Jazz
(EGEA-UJ EUJ 1004; 2002); 59:43 min.
Recorded live at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy
Teatro Morlacchi, Perugia, 21 July 1996

01. Isto Aqui o Que É? (Ary Barroso)
02. De Conversa em Conversa (Lścio Alves/Haroldo Barbosa)
03. Pra Que Discutir com Madame? (Haroldo Barbosa/Janet de Almeida)
04. Malaga (Fred Bongusto)
05. Estate (Bruno Martino/Bruno Brighetti)
06. Lį Vem a Baiana (Dorival Caymmi)
07. Corcovado (Antonio Carlos Jobim)
08. Doralice (Dorival Caymmi/Antōnio de Almeida)
09. Rosa Morena (Dorival Caymmi)
10. Desafinado (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Newton Mendonēa)
11. Saudade da Bahia (Dorival Caymmi)
12. O Pato (Jaime Silva/Neuza Teixeira)
13. Chega de Saudade (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes)
14. Garota de Ipanema (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes)

= = =

What’s Joćo singing this year? Check the set lists of his three Sćo Paulo performances in early August.


Copyright © 2002–2008 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.