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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 10. 1963.

Bossa Nova As jazz

Bossa Nova As jazz

It doesn't look as if the most recent of the Great Dance Crazes—the bossa nova—is taking on in New Zealand.

It was probably inevitable: a generation brought up on the relentless twang-and-bang of rock and roll and the twist doesn't have the time or the rhythmic subtlety to take to an understated, rather more complex rhythmic pattern like the samba.

As for the music, the local jazz aficiandos noted that Mr. Chubby Checker had recorded Desafinado and muttered "gimmick". But those who invested in the best of the monster crop of Bossa Nova LPs might have got a pleasant, if hardly bone-shaking surprise.

Jazzmen have been toying with the sophisticated rhythms of "Afro-Cuban" music for some time. Dizzy Gillespie's big band featured an exuberant Cuban drummer named Chano Pozo, who unfortunately found himself on the wrong end of a gun at the height of his career. Gillespie fans will remember the stratospheric Manteca recorded live at a concert in California. In fact the very word bop" is supposed to have come from a Gillespie scat translation of Spanish "arriba!" (Gillespese: "hey-ba-ba-re-bop").

Putting samba and jazz together was probably the idea of bassist Harry Babasin, who organised a group featuring Brazilian classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida and the young West Coast altoist Bud Shank back in 1953. The Laurindo Almeida Quartet, Almeida (un-amplified Spanish guitar; Shank (alto); Babasin (bass) and Roy Harte (drums) put out a record the same year called Brazilliance, released here by Lotus for World Pacific as The Laurindo Ilmeida Ouartet. The group had a light, airy sound: Harte alternated between hand drumming and brush-work; Babasin fingered his bass in a basic samba pattern; and Shank's winsome, fluting alto seemed to fit nicely with Almeida's natural feel for the music.

For some reason it didn't catch on: a Downbeat writer suggests that the strongly accentuated offbeat in the samba rhythm may have sounded a bit corny to jazz musicians gripped in the fervour of the "Groove-Funk-Soul" movement of the 1950's.

It was left to a very accomplished Washington guitarist (jazz and classical) Charlie Byrd to combine with Mr. Mellow himself, Stan Getz, to produce Jazz Samba (Verve V-8432), which started the bossa nova bandwagon rolling. Byrd's group included his regular sideman Keter Betts (bass) and Buddy Deppenschmidt (drums) plus younger brother Gene Byrd bass and (guitar) and a second drummer (Bill Reichenbach).

Byrd's apparently unbounded talent with the guitar (his regular sets at Washington's Showboat Inn include samplings of Scarlatti. Bach, flamenco and modern South American composers) takes samba rhythms well in stride and his jazz sense is more clearly defined than was Almeida's. Getz is cool, without being insipid: the duos with Byrd are taut and crisp.

Although this record shows beyond doubt that the bossa nova sound is flexible enough to be more than a gimmick, the whole movement may collapse under the sheer pressure of a lot of blowing without any real idea of the opportunities that this ingratiating music can offer for pleasant listening. It's not great jazz, but it soon won't even be good music when everybody from Earl Bostic to Dave Brubeck has recorded a bossa nova album.—R.G.L.