João Donato – A Bad Donato (1970)

João Donato
“A Bad Donato”
Released 1970 on Blue Thumb
This reissue 2004 Dubas Music (Brasil)

1 The Frog (A Rã) 2:37
2 Celestial Showers 2:36
3 Bambú 2:20
4 Lunar Tune 4:56
5 Cadê Jodel? (The Beautiful One) 2:07
6 Debutante’s Ball 3:00
7 Straight Jacket 3:27
8 Mosquito (Fly) 2:59
9 Almas Irmãs 1:53
10 Malandro 2:32

‘ “A Bad Donato” was an attempt to break into the contemporary overseas market. I wanted to be successful and bossa nova wasn’t my thing anymore, it was too much singing — João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim were all working closely with lyrics. Frank Sinatra had recorded their songs. Yet, my music didn’t fit into any genre, or if it did it was jazz that wasn’t such a commercial success. Jazz musicians were moving more into popular music, such as Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery, and they were starting to play to big audiences. Fusion came along and my record was something like that, a fusion of Brazilian music with jazz rock and electronica.’

“I don’t play acoustic piano on this record at all, just the keyboards. At the time, music was very raw, noisier. The Beatles were happening, shouting out their lyrics, and Jimi Hendrix … who shouted with his guitar. And I made the noisiest record I can ever remember making.”

–João Donato, 2004, liner notes

João Donato – organ, piano
Ernie Watts, Jack Nimitz, Bill Hood, Don Menza – reeds
Pete Candoli, Conte Candoli, Jimmy Zito – trumpets
Jimmy Cleveland, Ken Shroyer – trombone
Bud Shank – flute
Oscar Castro Neves – acoustic guitar
Warren Klein – electric guitar
Chuck Domanico – bass
Mark Stevens, Paulinho Magalhães, Dom Um Romão – drums
Joe Porcaro, Emil Reichards – percussion

All songs by João Donato
Arranged by João Donato and Eumir Deodato

Produced by Emil Richards
Recording engineer – Hank Cicalo (A&M)
Mixing engineer – Gary Kellgren (The Record Plant)
Photography and design – Tom Wilkes & Berry Feinstein (Camouflage Productions)

This record has so accumulated so much respect among the “rare groove” crowd that it is no longer particularly rare or known. As the quotes above show, this could be looked at an effort by Donato to “cash in”, so to speak, but with lovely results. Having been approached by the label Blue Thumb to make any kind of record he wanted, he felt encouraged to update his sound and gave him a bunch of cash to go buy new electronic instruments and contemporary albums to contextualize them. The only old tune on here is the first one, ‘The Frog (A Rã)’, which had been a hit for Sergio Mendes and would be recorded quite a few other times (including by Gal Costa on an album he arranged for her, ‘Gal Canta’). The rest of the material is written for the session. Also unique is that he wanted to have “two of everything” — drummers, guitarists, bassists… The two-bass idea didn’t work out, however. Donato chose to use a bunch of musicians from Stan Kenton’s orchestra, in particular Bud Shank who had helped João out considerably after his move to the United States, along with Brazilian luminarias like Dom Um and Oscar Castro Neves. They brought Eumir Deodato in after the sessions had already begun, and João is right to point out that this collaboration precedes ‘Thus Sprach Zarathrustra’ by two years but basically sets the blueprint for it. And the closer you look and listen, the more it is obvious that this album is not at all about ‘cashing in’, as much as jazz purists would have called this album a sell-out. Donato was taking his cues from what interested him in contemporary music while dealing with the perpetual musical wanderlust he has always demonstrated. When he was not collaborating with some of the most significant figures of musical hybridities in the second half of the twentieth century (Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, Eddie Palmieri and Dizzy Gillespie for starters) Donato was constantly pioneering trends and then abandoning them for new pastures while others made them into successful and lucrative genres. From when he essentially invented bossa nova on the accordian (inspiring João Gilberto), inaugurated bossa-jazz combos, or making one of the adventurous early jazz-funk-rock/fusion albums in ‘A Bad Donato’, he was always one step ahead of just about everyone. And in all this electric career his playing and arranging style has always been inimitably his own and warmly recognizable. Every track on this album is intense even when offset by sunny jazz-pop sensibilities. The two-drummer approach lends an almost ominous quality to certain moments much like double-tracked drums can achieve. Personally I would like to have heard what some these tunes sounded like with only one drummer (Dom Um Romão, principally) just to hear the difference, as sometimes I wonder if its a touch ‘too much’ having two — although, as is the case with many a classic album, I don’t really think I would want it any other way. Not much point in picking highlights since this short record is a winner from start to finish, but lately I have been particularly fond of ‘Celestial Showers’, the appropriately-titled ‘A Lunar Tune’, and the percussion-heavy ‘Debutante’s Ball’.

It is nice that the reissue CD prompted João Donato to write new liner notes reflecting back on this album which. It is a drag that they couldn’t find some outtakes or bonus tracks from the session, however — since the original album clocks in at a mere 28 minutes of music. This is the first official release of the album on CD.