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CD SAMBALANÇO (2004) - Lee Jeske


Fifty years after the seeds were first planted by a group of smart and talented musicians and composers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- 40 years after it swept the world -- Bossa Nova stands as one of the enduring musical forms of the 20th Century.

While many of its architects -- the creators of the sound, style and form, the shapers of the new wave -- are no longer with us, one of the very first and very greatest is not only still with us, he's never stopped creating and performing gorgeous, haunting, bittersweet music: Carlos Lyra.

The composer of such standards as "Lobo bobo," "Maria Ninguém," "Saudade fez um samba" (all of which were first introduced to the world on the cornerstone of Bossa Nova, Joao Gilberto's debut album, Chega de Saudade), "Minha namorada," "Samba do Carioca," "Coisa mais linda," "Você e eu," "Influência do Jazz" and "Maria Moita." Carlos Lyra wrote his first song in as a teenager in 1954 and will still be writing superb melodies in 2004.

Antonio Carlos Jobim called him "the king of rhythm." "Carlos Lyra is unique, unpaired and unmatchable," said Jobim. "His sambas and song will live on --because of their quality, delicacy and depth -- as long as there is music."

Carlos Lyra wrote his first song in 1954 and recorded his first solo album in 1959. He was at Carnegie Hall in 1962 to perform in the landmark concert that placed Bossa Nova firmly on the international stage, a stage it still occupies. Two years later, he was on the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival as a featured performer with Stan Getz, the legendary tenor saxophonist who helped popularize the new wave from Brazil. Lyra and Getz would tour the world together, spreading the music far and wide.

His songs have been recorded by the likes of Astrud Gilberto, Paul Winter, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Zoot Sims, Herbie Mann, Stan Getz, Nara Leão, Sergio Mendes, Flora Purim, Gal Costa, Brigitte Bardot and Antonio Carlos Jobim himself. In the 21st Century, such young musicians as the gang behind Bossacucanova have been reworking the Lyra legacy.

But his brilliance as a songwriter should not obscure his brilliance as a performer. He has a warm, sensual voice, an enormously influential guitar technique, a sharply honed wit and a musical sensibility as wide and warm as Brazil itself. (Or as wide as the heavens -- Carlos Lyra is also an astrologer, with two books to prove it.)

On Sambalanço, Carlos Lyra gathers a flock of his children -- his great songs, classic and new -- and presents them in fresh, scintillating arrangements. Like Jobim, as his great collaborators passed on (Vinícius de Moraes in 1980, Ronaldo Bôscoli in 1994), Lyra, without batting an eye, took up the lyric writing himself. Another notch on his belt. Another facet of his genius. Formidable.

Several of the standards with Bôscoli are here -- "Lobo bobo," "Saudade fez um samba," "Se é tarde em perdoa" -- as are several of the standards with Vinícius -- "Minha namorada," "Você e eu," "Coisa mais linda," "Maria Moita."

But Sambalanço glints with the light of a number of lesser-known, rarer jewels. The delicious song that starts the album and gives it its title is all Lyra. It's a new song to an old name, a name which caused Vinícius to write, back in 1961, that Lyra had already created "the Carlos Lyra style: modern sambas with the new swing, but very definitely Brazilian and very well constructed from the point of view of form."

"Gente do morro," with lyrics by Vinícius, is an obscure gem, written for an early '70s Brazilian TV novela and set aside. This is its second recording, the first by its composer.

"O barco e a vela" introduces two new Lyras -- Carlos' daughter, Kay, who shares the vocals, and his nephew, Claudio, who wrote the beautiful words and music and contributes acoustic guitar.

"Canção que morre no ar," with lyrics by Bôscoli, is an old chestnut that rarely gets performed because it's considered too difficult for most singers. Carlos has no difficulty here, and the great Gal Costa had no difficulty when she included the song on Cantar, Cantar.

"Mas também quem mandou," with lyrics by Vinícius, was recorded by American saxophonist Paul Winter and Carlos on their classic 1964 collaboration, The Sound of Ipanema.

"Um abraço no João," is an old Lyra song, "Até parece," that has been reworked as an homage to the great Joao Gilberto.

"Só Choro quando estou feliz" is a little-known Lyra original -- words and music -- that's only getting its second airing by its composer.

"Pode Ir," a posthumous collaboration with Vinícius, is given its first-ever recording by Lyra.

"Se quiseres chorar," written with the late, great Dolores Duran (best known for her classic "A Noite do Meu Bem), is a new song to a lost lyric--one which has waited 40 years for its debut. This is its very first recording.

The album ends with "Os olhos da madrugada," a rarely heard Lyra original, recorded by him only once before.

As the turbulent 20th Century recedes into history, we are left with the great popular art and culture that it gave us, including music that will last for eternity. In all the great forms -- jazz, tango, rock and roll, Bossa Nova, etc. -- there are architects, the giants who built the structures. They will be playing jazz for the next thousand years, but most of those who built the music are no longer with us. Same thing with Bossa Nova -- most of its architects are gone.

But with Carlos Lyra, a giant remains among us. Carlos Lyra has been an active force in the music of Brazil -- the music of the world -- for 50 years. His one-man show, 25 Years of Bossa Nova, was a hit in Rio and Sao Paulo in the mid-'80s. A decade later, he was in Tokyo celebrating 40 Years of Bossa Nova, and he toured in Brazil shortly thereafter with a show by the same name.

In a few years, get ready for 50 Years of Bossa Nova starring the great Carlos Lyra, whose compositions will still be played and heard when someone somewhere in the future produces 500 Years of Bossa Nova.

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