Album Review: Various Artists – Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s (2011)

I am not a huge fan of music compilations. To me, “best of’s” or “greatest hits” are often not true representations of an artist’s back catalog and I find they tend to gloss over a lot of the lesser known and often obscure material that you can find when exploring the original studio releases. However, I found myself being pleasantly surprised on listening to this particular compilation of Brazilian bossa nova music.

Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s is a two-disc compilation of early bossa nova music, a style of music which fused together jazz and samba and that emerged in Brazil in the 1950s. Released on the Soul Jazz Records label, a British label which specializes in releasing mainly compilations of non-western styles of music such as reggae, Latin, and Afro-Cuban, this brilliant compilation offers a good introduction to the origins of bossa nova not just in sound but also visually and historically. The CD package comes with a published booklet complete with some amazing photographs and a well-written history of the rise of bossa nova and its social significance in Brazil at the time. As someone who knows very little about original bossa nova but whom is a big fan of the fusion bossa nova that Stan Getz recorded in the early 60s, on reading this booklet I quickly became aware that bossa nova was more than just music and in many ways represented an age of developing modernism and idealism in Brazilian society during the late 50s and early 60s, particularly amongst the youth of the country. Bossa nova was seen to represent everything modern, sophisticated and cool in Brazil at the time and became associated with urbanization, apartment living, and consumer lifestyles. Not something you usually associate with traditional non-western styles of music, but certainly in describing the wider cultural significance of bossa nova it makes you think how cool it would have been to be there at the time.

In terms of the music itself, one of the good things about not knowing most of the artists on here – I was familiar with Sergio Mendes, as well as Joao Gilberto is that I had no pre-conceived expectations of what the music was going to be like, or of the artists themselves. Therefore I could just relax and enjoy the music for what it was as I went through the thirty-four tracks, a good number when a compilation is dealing with an entire genre. The tracks are a mixture of lively fiesta numbers, as well as the more rhythmic jazzier instrumentals and I must say all and all I wasn’t disappointed as I was taken through a broad sweep of the more popular people in bossa nova of the day. Just some of the artists whose sounds I was attracted to more included Elis Regina, Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes, Dom Um Romao, and finally Tama Trio but with this said I couldn’t pick a favorite as there was just so much which appealed.

In an ideal world, compilations should be designed and packaged to introduce people to the artist or music in question and therefore should offer a broad sample of music which is representative of the entire body of work. Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s does a very good job at this and doesn’t just focus on a small section of the performers who were around during the early stages of bossa nova. The fact the music was also accompanied by a very well presented companion to the period and the music itself made it that much better too. Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s I feel is a true representation of early bossa nova and is a good one at that, making it one of the better compilations I have listened to.

– Sam

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