I wrote this piece for the liner notes of the 2006 Rev-Ola re-issue of ACSACS.
A friend of mine was recently asked to DJ at a nice little Glasgow bar on the occasional Sunday. “Sort of a Jazz in the afternoon type thing”, they said. “Nothing too heavy”, they said. “Save Sun Ra till about 5pm”, they said.
So anyway, he goes along for the first date, around lunchtime. He’s a trifle nervous. You would be too. There’s a woman sitting at a nearby table, drumming her fingers, frowning, making him even more nervous. You’d feel the same.
OK, just get on with the first record. Safe ground. Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz. The sound of bare feet on hot ground, flaky paint on garage walls, the shale shimmer of Copacabana beach. Two minutes and ten seconds in and the table woman is frowning harder. She sighs, pushes back her chair and stands up in a single swift movement and approaches, grim faced.
“That’s not Jazz”.
Now if it was any of us, at least in our “what should have happened world” we’d have said two things, wouldn’t we? First we’d have pointed out that it’s just not Jazz to say something’s not Jazz. Secondly we might have asked the question, okay then what is Jazz? Is it in fact The Girl From Ipanema? Is it maybe Revolution Number 9? Is it Miles Davis doing a Scritti Politti song? I don’t know. I don’t even know if it matters but I’ll have a stab here with, you’ll be happy to know, reference to the record you just bought.
Maybe if jazz is about one thing it’s about the movement of air, the elemental expression of water wind sky earth fire, and in the singing of Astrud Gilberto on this beautiful collaboration with Walter Wanderley you can find a window on nature’s world.
“Look out the window at that rainstorm” she sighs. Leaves blown, piano notes hanging on branches, raindrop cymbals, Autumn’s whisper in the voice. Air through the cracks of a window frame. Wanderley’s waves of echo-propelled chords and licks swooning and surging, picking up pace and gliding on the surf of Joao Gilberto, Claudio Slon, Bobby Rosengarden and Jose Marino’s quadruple breaker. That Wanderley space age bubble of tone, like a 1950’s idea of what the future might be. Public information cartoons, leaves blown, Hammond B3 sunbursts.
Okay, let me get there before you do, leaves blown, Hammond B3 sunbursts, raindrop cymbals yadda yadda yadda. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, I could be over egging this. In the case of A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness Jazz is also unashamed fun fun fun. The Portuguese Washerwoman just came on, Astrud in full ba da ba da flow, and Margaret shouted through; “that sounds like music you’d get in a supermarket”! Yeah, the supermarket of your shimmying-down-empty-aisles dream, with Wanderley beamed in from his bossa nova moon park, kicking up heels and boxes of cornflakes, swishing skirts and yelping out It’s A Lovely Day Today! Animated hi-hat and B3 syncopated against straight down the middle bass and Astrud, almost dispassionate but always just in the groove, with a smile: probably a wink too. So Nice (Summer Samba) just rattles away, start-stop, excited rim shots. There’s a lot of reverb there too and when Walter takes a line for a walk round the changes it is like the current of air in music.
Of course on this particular record, with every certain smile there’s the certainty of sadness round the corner. For Here’s That Rainy Day and the haunting Tu Mi Delirio woody piano chords replace the sunburst organ and suddenly the season changes and mournful winter creeps in. Full of joy and laughter as this album is, these moments of sudden melancholy are perhaps most memorable. Indeed, the thing I love most about Astrud Gilberto as a singer is her silence. In The Sadness Of After she sings quietly, gently, never imposing her hurt too much on the listener. Piano notes sparkle and fade. One can hear her finding a note and just hanging there, gingerly pronouncing words without saying too much, holding the notes but not killing it. Singing softly enough that her breathing becomes the tone. It’s this space and silence that lets air flood in and nature flow through.
Jazz, Bossa Nova, Pop, whatever. It’s beautiful.
David Scott, 2006