Today marks the official beginning of the summer season, and what a beautiful, sunny day it is here in north Alabama. To celebrate the start of summer, I thought it’d be fun to spotlight some of my favorite records with a summer vibe. Since I kinda really hate the song “Summertime” (sorry not sorry Gershwin), I opted to go another route and highlight my favorite bossa nova records. Because, you know, if summer had a soundtrack, it would be mostly bossa nova. In Raggy Waltz’s unofficial official duty to spotlight albums and artists that jazz has forgotten, here’s a refreshingly honest bossa nova album that certainly deserves more notoriety. Para a música!
The Tune: “Cev Y Mar”
The Tune: “Samba Para Dos”
Recorded: November 1962
- Eddie Harris – Tenor Sax
- Jimmy Rainey – Guitar
- Lalo Schifrin – Piano, Arranger
- Art Davis – Bass
- Jack Del Rio – Percussion
- Osvaldo Cigno – Percussion
- Chuck Lampkin – Drums
If you ever wanted to know what John Coltrane would’ve sounded like had he made a bossa nova track on ‘A Love Supreme’, “Cev Y Mar” is the closest example you’ll probably ever get. Mercy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Like I mentioned in the introduction, this album is surprisingly honest and refreshing. I say surprising because it was recorded at the end of 1962, when the bossa nova craze was in full-effect. Everyone and their mother was either throwing the term into their rock and roll song, throwing the beat behind any and every song from Cole Porter to Bach, and throwing the same handful of Jobim tunes onto their albums. Tasked with recording yet another bossa nova album (and probably sick and tired of hearing a gazillion versions of “Desafinado” on the radio), saxophonist Eddie Harris opted to recruit not another Brazilian but an Argentinian to both arrange the music and write a tune or two as well for the album. The great Lalo Schifrin was familiar with the bossa nova as a result of being with Dizzy Gillespie’s group, which was one of the first American groups to play and record bossa nova (ditto the drummer on this record, Mr. Chuck Lampkin).
Eddie Harris further bucked the in-vogue trend by not including a single Jobim composition. The icing on the cake? Harris made an album of bossa nova that was still heavily jazz. This isn’t one of those instances where they cram 12 tracks onto an LP with 2.5 minutes of music per track. Nope, Harris and the good folks at Vee-Jay Records gifted the world with an album with three tracks per side, giving everyone ample room to stretch out and get their point across. The result? Easily one of the best bossa nova albums you’ve probably never heard of.
While Schifrin arranged each tune, he wrote three of the six tracks and Harris contributed a track as well, a lovely melody dedicated to his then-infant daughter. Each track and the performances on them are noteworthy head-bobbers, but the tunes I spotlighted above truly pack a punch. “Cev Y Mar” (Sky and Sea) is certainly one of the fiercest, most extroverted bossa nova performances that these jaded ears have ever heard. The liner notes: “Cev Y Mar” is a 64-bar theme… The construction of the song’s chords is based on the overtone series, giving rise in Eddie to another approach to bossa nova- an approach that involves skips, runs, pleadings, cries, and demands, lending a John Coltrane cast to Eddie’s well-constructed three choruses…” Agreed. It’s almost eerie at times how similar he sounds to Coltrane. When I first listened to the record, I had to stop reading the liner notes and just stare at the speakers, I was so impressed.
If “Cev Y Mar” is Harris’ shining moment, “Samba Para Dos” is firmly Schifrin’s time to shine. An original by Schifrin, it’s based on the good old 12-bar blues, but with some slight tweaks to the underlying chord progression “to tone down the drama of the blues”, according to Schifrin himself. Harris lays down a solid solo, but it’s when he yields the floor to Schifrin that things start to cook. He starts off politely enough, but soon he’s thundering away with some fierce block chords, making a beautiful case for why the piano is considered a percussion instrument. The thing is that when you think he’s winding it down, he just keeps going, making firewood out of the piano keys and a bonfire out of the piano itself. I can imagine his hair flying everywhere as he gets into his solo, the other guys in the studio grinning ear to ear all the while. When he finally hands off to guitarist Jimmy Rainey, it’s almost a miracle to hear how Rainey manages to follow the fire-breathing solo Schifrin laid down by offsetting the heat with a cool and relaxed solo of his own. For a while there, Schifrin quietly comps behind Rainey, probably because he’s busy pulling splinters out of his fingers.
In a rare example of a stellar album getting the proper review it deserves, Allmusic gave this record a whopping 9/10. In his lengthy review, Richard Ginell flatly stated that this was a great record. I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately his contribution to the genre ended up being just a blip on the bossa nova radar, and that’s a shame. With a pleasingly light tone (somewhere in the neighborhood of Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Zoot Sims, and Lester Young, which isn’t a bad neighborhood to be in) and plenty of relaxed heat, Eddie Harris was perfect for the bossa nova, and bossa nova for him.
Raggy Waltz Rating: A
Balancing minimalism with kitsch cuteness, this cover art is a nice example of a effective, simple artwork for a bossa nova album that is as charming to a serious jazz fan as it is to your extremely uncool grandmother. Extra points for not going the lazy route of splashing a photo of some girl in a bikini on the cover. Further extra points for maximizing the important info like the artist’s name and the album title while keeping the other info like the record label and catalog number in the background.
I always like having pictures of the artists/recording session on the albums, so I really dig having everyone on the record pictured. The liner notes are firmly above average, wide in scope, and delightfully informative. There’s a brief discussion of the still-relevant controversy concerning the origins (and thus ownership) of the bossa nova. As the liner notes detail, there were/are two main factions. The pro-America group maintains that bossa nova was born in America as a result of some ‘jazz-meets-samba’ collaborations in the mid-1950’s on the West Coast between Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida, which resulted in an album in ’55. The pro-Brasil side – which counts heavy-weights like Antonio Carlos Jobim as members – claim that bossa nova is the result of Brazilians like Jobim and Joao Gilberto hearing West Coast cool jazz music like Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker records and fusing it with their sambas. If you ask me, at the end of the day, the real winner is California. Boom.
Pressed and released in 1963, the vinyl was still stamped with a deep groove. The record sports Vee-Jay’s classic labels with the rainbow ring, which makes for a groovy visual experience while the record spins. The vinyl itself is nice, sturdy and thick. As for the acoustics, my copy is in glorious mono, with plenty of punch to go around. Well, I guess technically not around, but front and center… This album sounds fine to me overall, but Vee-Jay records all seem to sound similar to me in that they sound bright, airy, and almost hazy, if that makes sense. I lucked out with this mint-ish record that plays like new, with barely a crackle or a snap to be heard. Amen and amen.
The Place of Acquisition
Home base, Vertical House Records, here in Huntsville, Alabama, did me good yet again. On the particular day that I picked this record up, I also grabbed quite a few records by artists I wasn’t familiar with. That was the case with this album. I hadn’t heard of Mr. Eddie Harris before, but the presence of both Lalo Schifrin and Jim Rainey, who I did know, piqued my curiosity. The lengthy playing times and liner notes (as well as the $8.00 price tag) made it easy to bite and buy it. I’m glad I did, as it’s been on constant rotation ever since. Happy first day of summer!