João Donato – The New Sound of Brazil (1965)

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PIANO OF JOÃO DONATO – THE NEW SOUND OF BRAZIL
João Donato (1965)
1965
RCA (USA)
LSP 3473
BMG/RCA reissue 2001

1 Amazon [Amazonas]
(João Donato)

2 Forgotten places [Coisas distantes]
(João Donato, João Gilberto)

3 Little boat [O barquinho]
(Roberto Menescal, Ronaldo Bôscoli)

4 Manhã de carnaval
(Antônio Maria, Luiz Bonfá)

5 Esperança perdida
(Billy Blanco, Tom Jobim)

6 And roses and roses
(Ray Gilbert, Dorival Caymmi)

7 Jungle flower [Flor do mato]
(João Donato)

8 Sugarcane Breeze [Vento no canavial]
(João Donato)

9 How insensitive [Insensatez]
(Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes)

10 Samba de Orfeu
(Antônio Maria, Luiz Bonfá)

11 Glass beads [No coreto]
(João Donato, João Gilberto)

12 It didn’t end [Não se acabou]
(João Donato)

Three years after the legendary Bossa Nova concert presentation at Carnegie Hall, the anglophone world could be said to have already been doing a backstroke in the imaginary beaches of rich countries’ exotic preconceptions of Brazil at the time. Of a country soaked in relaxing breezes and caresses of bronzed beauties, of young people strumming guitars on beaches. Of the bossa nova dream flattened into a two-dimensional comic strip and sold to the young and hip in the great white north. The aural marketplace was flooded with the sounds of Tom Jobim played on every imaginable instrument, with jazz musicians making bossa-inspired albums faster than people could buy them. And some of the movement’s original leading lights touring the US, and some of them staying there.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, then, that I would not be similarly enchanted by “The New Sound of Brazil”, João Donato’s debut as a bandleader in the US. It’s that it was recorded away from Brazil, or even that there wasn’t much “new” about the sound. That’s not the problem with it. Donato had already been living there for some years, being in many ways much more appreciated as a piano player in the US than he was in Brazil, and knew his way around the jazz community. Had he been in more control of this album, it could have been amazing.

The shame of this album is that its production was in the hands of one Andy Wiswell who (as the notes point out) had built his career working with the likes of Judy Garland, Perry Como, Harry Belafonte, and Liza Minneli, and was an expert at producing a riveting Broadway soundtrack… One glaring, unforgivable error was to kick Dom Um off the drum-kit and put him on percussion, replacing him with an American session musician. As Donato is quoted as saying in the liner notes, “Andy thought that Dom Um played ‘too Brazilian,’ and that this would jeopardize the commercial value of the album. They argued that it would be better to have an American drummer playing with an accent, because that was how people were accustomed to hearing bossa nova. I thought it was a sketchy explanation, but preferred to agree in order to avoid any hard feelings.”

Mr. Donato, with all due respect — grow a pair, already! I am kidding, it was 1965, and João seems like a laid-back kind of eccentric dude.

The string arrangements by German-born Claus Ogerman are quite good, and he would go on to work on a bunch of other notable bossa nova (and ‘post’ bossa) albums in the next decade. But even here, the production makes the strings so sugary sweet that Aspertame starts to sound like a good idea. After a while it grows on you and in fact after listening with headphones I came to appreciate the mix a little more. But, one last gripe, the instrumental contributions by Carlos Lyra and Luiz Bonfa should also be more pronounced than they are.

The disc is still worthy of any Brazil music fan’s collection. It contains the first recording of Donato’s song “Amazonas”, and several rare collaborations with João Gilberto (who, interestingly enough, did not appear on the sessions).

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