BRAZIL/USA: Getz/Gilberto - Stan Getz & João Gilberto
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Effortlessly cool and sharp, Getz/Gilberto provides an excellent foundation for the bossa nova genre
Sometimes, between ourselves, Danny and I talk about a syndrome that afflicts many an album. I am of course talking about One Great Song Syndrome. There are different styles of One Great Song Syndrome, of course. Occasionally it means exactly what it sounds like, that there is simply only one good song on an album, and the rest is mediocre or bad – see our pithy one-line review of the Hall & Oates album Bigger Than Both Of Us in the Keep It Quarantine Sessions, where Rich Girl is an undeniably great tune, but the rest is incredibly forgettable. Then there’s the other type, where one song is much greater and more iconic than the rest, but the rest of the album is also worth your time. Getz/Gilberto is the latter. I’m not going to sit here and write this review and lie to you that The Girl From Ipanema, perhaps one of the most iconic Brazilian songs ever recorded and definitely the most famous in the West, isn’t the best song on the album – of course it is – but that’s not to say that the rest of the album doesn’t deserve a deep dive. So, let’s take the greatness of The Girl from Ipanema as a given, and let’s see what else this album has to offer. After all, Getz/Gilberto is a classic of the bossa nova genre, and is widely regarded as being the album that propelled bossa nova to worldwide popularity.
“It’s a charming album, it’s sophisticated, it’s smooth and elegant. I listen to this album and it evokes perfectly the sensation of being on the beach in Brazil and drinking a caipirinha as the sun is setting.”
Getz/Gilberto, as the name might suggest, is a collaboration between the American saxophonist Stan Getz and the Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, and that’s just as jazzy a mixture of sounds as you’re probably imagining, and bossa nova itself is essentially a Brazilian spin on jazz. I can often find jazz to be a slightly boring genre, or at least one that doesn’t excite me much, though I must admit throughout this musical journey I’m enjoying jazz more and more. Jazz is usually technically accomplished, often rather beautiful, but sterile. Give me the hot-blooded wailing and crunchy guitar riffs of AC/DC any day. Yes, I know I’m a philistine. That said, there’s something in Getz/Gilberto that keeps me listening and interested. It’s a charming album, it’s sophisticated, it’s smooth and elegant. I listen to this album and it evokes perfectly the sensation of being on the beach in Brazil and drinking a caipirinha as the sun is setting. I can imagine it is also great dinner party music, if you were to need to set a classy and stylish atmosphere, though it’s possible it could come across as pretentious.
The album is full of slinky guitar playing, graceful and inventive saxophone solos, and vocals from singers who sound so relaxed they seem a few seconds away from falling asleep. But far from making the album boring or somnolent, it all adds to this sense of coolness the album effortlessly effervesces, heralded by the gorgeous album artwork, created by the Puerto Rican artist Olga Albizu. If you’re into abstract art in the vein of Joan Miró or Wassily Kandinsky, definitely check out her work. It’s very expressive, vivid, and suggestive of repressed emotion. OK, off goes my art criticism beret, and back to the music.
You’ll probably notice by now that I’m avoiding talking about the songs individually in this review, and that is by design. The trouble with this album in one respect is that, the big hit aside, it’s so remarkably consistent and similar it does all merge into one long song. I can also see why it had the impact it did in popularising bossa nova. As aforementioned, it’s perfect background music for some occasions, but it does also function as something you could actively listen to as well – for certain there are enough interesting musical moments in it, and it certainly makes a statement about bossa nova as a particular and noteworthy strand of jazz.
I think the main take away from the album is as follows – it has one undeniably great song, and the rest are all very good songs, but they’re not necessarily the most memorable ones. It’s an album that flows well, at 39 minutes it is short and to the point. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, which is always a good thing. It’s sophisticated and fun, and it works on two levels, despite its optimum mode being the sort of jazz that sets a mood than jazz that evokes emotion.