[JPL] Swimming in the Wake of a Bossa Nova Master
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Sat Aug 28 16:43:53 EDT 2004
Swimming in the Wake of a Bossa Nova Master
August 27, 2004
By BEN RATLIFF
Those who follow João Gilberto's style are led into a
corner - a corner of modernity and nuance, but still a
The first to coordinate the voice-and-guitar rhythms and
vocal subtleties of bossa nova, Mr. Gilberto is still its
best example. Rosa Passos, a Brazilian singer with a heavy
debt to Mr. Gilberto, is in many ways more agreeable to
hear: sweeter, more playful, less astringent, less
withdrawn. But her show at Joe's Pub on Tuesday night and
her new album "Amorosa" (Sony Classical), illustrated some
of the perils of swimming in Mr. Gilberto's wake, as well
as some of the comforts.
With "Amorosa," an album of songs associated with Mr.
Gilberto, Ms. Passos is getting her first significant
promotion in America. It's a fussy album, and she has made
simpler, sturdier records over the last decade, including
"Me and My Heart" and "Entre Amigos," with the jazz bassist
Ron Carter. Arguments over purism are pointless in the long
run; nothing is pure. But they are lodged in bossa nova's
foundation, and Mr. Gilberto has set the standard for
dealing with them. After it had been written and widely
believed that the subtle, inward bossa nova aesthetic was a
refutation of the more emotive and purple bolero form, Mr.
Gilberto recorded some boleros in his own way, including
"Bésame Mucho." There was nothing mocking in the way he did
these songs, but he transformed them: he made them private
Ms. Passos played "Bésame Mucho" at Joe's Pub on Tuesday,
with a four-piece band of piano, bass, saxophone and drums.
(The song is on "Amorosa" as well.) There is so much to
admire about her as a singer: her impeccable control over a
light-gauge voice, her precise pitch, her mastery of bossa
nova rhythm. But conceptually, there wasn't much going on
here; her "Bésame Mucho" was merely a prettier turn on Mr.
Gilberto's version. It seems a shortcoming to proclaim
one's fealty only to Mr. Gilberto the singer when he was
something of a strategist as well.
At the beginning of her set, Ms. Passos stood up to sing;
it might have been an attempt to exhibit her range as a
performer, but it was a questionable move. Her musical
personality is so wedded to the guitar that she doesn't
have much stagecraft. When the band narrowed down to Ms.
Passos and her bassist, Paolo Paulelli, the set vastly
improved. She sang "Pra Que Discutir com Madame," "Aguas de
Março" and a few other songs. The complexity and freshness
of the swing was overwhelming.
These versions included little transformations, changing
the songs' rhythmic accents and harmonies; Mr. Paulelli
approximated percussion sounds with his mouth, giving Ms.
Passos more targets off of which to richochet her phrases.
Clearly she doesn't struggle with her admiration for Mr.
Gilberto: it was during this part of the set, when Ms.
Passos was approaching the elder musician's style most
purely, that she sounded freest.
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