The Charlie Byrd Trio
Original title - Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros
Having been a major part of Stan Getz's very popular Jazz Samba album, it was only fitting that guitarist Charlie Byrd would start recording his own bossa-nova records. This CD reissue brings back the 12 songs originally on the Riverside LP Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros plus six of the 11 tunes from Once More/Charlie Byrd's Bossa Nova. Byrd and his trio (which included bassist Keter Betts and drummer Bill Reichenbach) are augmented on some selections by strings, extra percussion plus horns. In reality the background musicians are not needed since Byrd was at the top of his form in those days. Unlike some of his earlier sets, these pretty and melodic recordings are very concise (lacking a sense of adventure), clocking in between 1:48 and 3:26 and looking toward the guitarist's later Columbia dates. Highlights include "Meditation," "O Barquinho," "Desafinado," "Bim Bom," "O Passaro" and "Limehouse Blues."
In one of those fascinating twists that add to the magic of jazz, it was a mild-mannered, non-exotic. Virginia-born wizard of (primarily) the acoustic guitar who spearheaded the early-Sixties onslaught of bossa nova on the music scene of this country. Charlie Byrd, fascinated by this Brazilian music while on a South American tour, became its most ardent advocate here. He first joined with Stan Getz for a trend-setting LP and then moved on to his own big hit with this Riverside album, highlighted by the best-selling, with-strings version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Meditation."
All Music Guide
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Having been strongly attracted to bossa nova for several years, and suddenly finding it sweepingly popular, I am hard put to offer either a simple description of it or a reason for its sudden acceptance. (Translating the phrase "bossa nova" gives you little more than a reference to a "new knack".) But it is very clear that a striking new musical development has taken place. And I have no trouble at all in finding, in this new music, beautiful songs played with an amazing sense of subtlety ... a de-emphasis of the obvious . . . controlled dissonance . . . Brazilian funk . . . much, much emotion.
It is also the sound of something happening six thousand miles away, something that has been growing down in Rio de Janeiro since about 1959. But not all Brazilians are fond of bossa nova; many think of the musicians who play it as being "way out"; and even the expression "bossa nova" considered somewhat "hip" Portuguese slang. Is it any wonder North Americans have had difficulty n'ot only in translating the expression but - more importantly - in expressing the music. Yet North American musicians, and audiences, have fallen in love with it!
A little Washington, D.C., musical history, some of it personal, seems called for at this point. In July 1960, a disc jockey from Rio named Paulo Santos, knowing of my interest in Brazilian music, visited my radio program. He brought along a number of records, notably some by Joao Gilberto, the remarkable Brazilian singer-guitarist-composer. I was immediately impressed, and since then have played Gilberto and others hundreds of times. My listeners' response was, and has continued to be, fantastic. . . .
Some three years before this, Charlie Byrd had begun working at a Washington club called The Showboat, with what has always been one of the finest working agreements between musician and club-owner I have ever heard of. Pete Lambros runs the club; Charlie runs the music. A person of lesser talent and diligence might have quickly run such a situation into the ground. But to Charlie, the very fact that he is allowed to express himself in his own way with his own choice of musicians has always meant that he must of necessity work even harder. Byrd is a the success and recognition he is getting today has come about only because he has, in the complete sense, worked for it. He soon made The Showboat the most talked-about music room in Washington, and something of a legend throughout the country. Where else can you hear, within a two-hour period, beautifully played classics, down-home blues, excellent jazz, and-more recently-some fine bossa nova.
For, as one result of his success at The Showboat, Charlie was asked by the State Department to make a 14-week tour of Latin America early in 1961. He returned convinced that the Brazilians had something extraordinary to offer, and with his freedom in presenting what he wished at The Showboat, bossa nova soon became a regular part of his program.
It is to Charlie's credit that after having heard this music he seriously set out to interpret it in the manner of the Brazilians. Of course no creative musician is expected to be a slave to the original form of what he is adapting, but in this case at least I'd agree with Charlie's attitude that it is right to be guided by what has been done by the innovators of the style. (In listening to this album, you might remember that these are, primarily, Brazilian songs.)
Although some American musicians came back from South American trips and recorded an occasional bossa nova or so, to my knowledge Byrd was the first to listen carefully, play it nightly on the job, and then record a complete album in this idiom. His awareness of the background of the music is, I believe, what clearly sets Charlie apart from the current crop of trend-followers who' hire a bongo player, head for a recording studio - one eye on the clock, the other on the arrangements - and then have the effrontery to claim that they have recorded the real thing. His present position as a key individual in "bossa nova: U.S. style" surely reflects the difference.
In listening to the material Charlie has recorded over the past several years, I have always been pleasantly surprised by his variety of presentation. This collection is no exception. Here, for the first time, is Charlie Byrd with strings! You can also hear his regular trio, which includes the powerful assistance of bassist Keter Belts and drummer Billy Reichenbach. On some numbers there is the surprise addition of a famous trombonist out of the Woody Herman school, Earl Swope; and of another Washington musician, Charlie Hampton, on flute and alto.
Charlie wrote three originals for this set: O Passaro, Yvone, and Ela Me Deixou, which is an outstandingly pretty tune. (I think my sole reservation about the album is that I would have liked hearing this one as solo guitar offering.) Three of the songs-Ho-Ba-La-La, Bim Bom, and Un Abrago Do Bonfa - are by Gilberto. The last is a salute from the composer to a fellow guitarist (Bonfa is a noted Brazilian musician), interpreted by Charlie with a definite blues accent that combines bossa and soul. Bim Bom is undoubtedly the romp of the album, showing off the trio as if they were on the stand at The Showboat. Included in the collection is Charlie's new version of Desafinado; it's a song he particularly likes, and the feeling seems to have become universal. Is there a future for bossa nova after the current "latch-on" craze finally subsides? I am sure there is. I think that some of the most interesting popular music in the world is being written in Brazil, and that musicians like Charlie will always enjoy playing it. I think, musically speaking, the six thousand or so miles separating Brazil and the U.S.A. are narrowing daily and permanently, and a better thing couldn't be happening.
I last visited Rio in 1961 and hope to go there soon again. I'm not certain when this might come about, but in the meantime - along with all those who can't make the trip - I can and will continue to listen to Charlie Byrd!