Bossacucanova's 'Best Of' Album Pulses With Lovely, Lively Music

Aug 18, 2016
Originally published on August 18, 2016 12:28 pm
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. As the Olympics nears its conclusion, we have some music from Brazil. Bossa nova was the most popular Brazilian music in America in the 1960s. And it influenced American pop music and jazz. Since then, bossa nova has faded from the American scene, but it never really went away.

GROSS: Music critic Milo Miles has a review of a new album from the contemporary Brazilian ensemble Bossacucanova.

(SOUNDBITE OF OS CARIOCAS AND BOSSACUCANOVA SONG, "BERIMBAU")

MILO MILES, BYLINE: Other surprises about this collection are also notable. For one, it's the finest job of assembling a best-of that I've heard in a long time. Current single-track obsessions have indeed damaged the legacy of superlative surveys. "The Best Of Bossacucanova" has captivating flow that never lets up, never gets derailed by an off-base track and satisfies all the way. You really could play the whole thing at a party and have an ideal mix of time to chat and times to dance. Hey - the one previously unreleased track makes a dandy finale.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALDOMIRO PENA")

BOSSACUCANOVA: (Singing in Portuguese).

MILES: Another unexpected turn of Bossacucanova is just how complex the group's relation is with the bossa nova past. Marcio Menescal is a son of Roberto Menescal, a bossa nova founder, guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer and arranger, who has played with virtually all of the major performers in the style. Bossacucanova refers to him simply as our master.

This intimate, well-grounded relation to the history of the music helps explain why the remakes here never sound like trendy dabbling. But a key reason they don't sound antique either is that what dates many original bossa nova songs is the two genteel vocals, based more in lounge jazz and even crooning than any more bumptious pop. The clever rethinking of Bossacucanova over is clear in this track featuring the voice of the late Emilio Santiago - still sweet-tones but with the precise amount of added modern burr.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL PRECISO PERDOAR")

BOSSACUCANOVA AND EMILIO SANTIAGO: (Singing in Portuguese).

MILES: The only hesitations about "The Best Of Bossacucanova" I have is that I'm not sure a non-Brazilian specialists need more than this one release. And because many of the tracks are revamped bossa nova classics, I worry that it shows the style still has more of a rich history than a new-generation future. But it's enough that this best-of is not an academic question or a mere Olympic-year souvenir. It's both a tribute to and an incarnation of lovely and lively music.

GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed "The Best Of Bossocucanova" on the Six Degrees label. If you'd like to catch up on recent FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interview with Meryl Streep and with Julie Klausner who created and stars in the Hulu comedy series "Difficult People," check out our podcast. You'll find those and other interviews.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Boldanado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AGUAS DE MARCO")

BOSSACUCANOVA: (Singing) A stick, a stone - it's the end of the road, the rest of a stump, a little alone. A sliver of glass - it is life. It's the sun. The night is death - the trap, a gun. The oak when it blooms, a fox in the brush, a knot in the wood, the song of a thrush. The wood of the wind - a cliff, a fall, a scratch, a lump - it is nothing at all. It's the wind blowing free. It's the end of a slope - the beam, a void, a hunch, a hope.

And the river bank talks of the waters of March, the end of the stream, the joy in your heart. The foot, the ground, the flash, the bone. The beat of the road, a slingshot's stone. A fish, a flash, a silvery glow. A fight, a bet, the range of a bow. The bed of the well. The end of the line. The dismay in the face - a loss, a find. A spear, a spike, a point, a nail. A drip, a drop - the end of the tale. A truckload of bricks in the soft morning light, the sound of a shot in the dead of the night. A mile, a must, a thrust, a bump. A girl, a rhyme - it's a cold. It's the mumps. The plan of the house, the body in bed and the car that got stuck? It's the mud. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.