Thursday, June 9, 2011

João Gilberto at 80

Tomorrow João Gilberto celebrates his 80th birthday. It would be hard to overstate his importance in popular music of the 20th century. As a singer and as guitarist he's the owner of a very distinctive touch, one of those rare virtuosos whose abilities pass as simple and efortless, concealing hours of almost obsessive work in his quest for perfection. Even if this is a matter of personal taste, anyone is likely to appreciate the pure magic that his music emanates. I really wish he has a good birthday and that he is in peace, above all the tired press reports about his "reclusive personality" and other frankly strange issues (like the FaceBook profile that may or may not have been really his).

Regarding FaceBook, I still keep buggering on with my little campaign:

The rest of us will have to keep waiting for an official reissue of his first three LPs. As I have explained before, Gilberto and EMI – owners of the masters – have been horn-locked in the Brazilian courts for the best part of 15 years, which has prevented the world from enjoying the artist's first three albums. Right before The Legendary... / O Mito was removed from the market it was printed as two separate CDs by Time Life in Spain, as part of a collection of classic EMI-owned jazz albums. That reissue comes up every once in a while in bargain bins and discount shops in London and even in the US.

For impatient listeners, él!/Cherry Records, a British label, has published two interesting reissues of the first two albums, which is completely legal in the EU, something that some on the other side of the pond fail to grasp. There's still plenty to argue about this, but in the EU the mechanical rights for those two LPs, and soon for the third, are public domain.

Meanwhile, in the courts things don't seem to be moving much. I found a few reports at Terra Magazine, a Brazilian on-line mag. This is the summary:

  • The lawsuit is expected to be solved in 2011, by the High Court in Brazilia, but obviously not in time for Gilberto's 80th birthday.
  • Despite rumours stating otherwise, EMI says the original masters are in Brazil.
  • Gilberto has listened to the masters but he's not recognized them as the originals. He'd be ready to work on a new remaster.
  • According to Ricardo Garcia (technician appointed by EMI) reverb (echo) was added for a false stereo effect on the original mono recordings from the album Chega de Saudade, and high frequencies were forced up by equalization.
  • According to Paulo Jobim, Antonio Carlos's son, who's involved in the case (on Gilberto's side), in the CD master strings and drums were favoured over guitar and vocals, and too much equalization has changed the timbre of the singer.
  • Paulo Jobim was present at the original sessions. Apparently, Gilberto made, and was granted, the unprecendeted request of having two microphones, one for the guitar, one for the voice. He was a stinking perfectionist, even though the recordings were made live, with no overdubbing.
  • Apparently, when they were going to do The Legendary... / O Mito, EMI/Odeon tried to obtain Gilberto's authorization to reissue the LPs on CD through composer Nelson Motta, but never got a reply.
  • Caetano Veloso, and advisor to Gilberto's lawyers, argues that a single CD detracts value from the product and, eventually, the artist.
  • Gilberto also has denounced the use of one of his songs for a commercial without his permission

By the look of it, if money is not an issue – a big "if", given EMI's situation – there shouldn't be much problem to get to a solution. I do think that Veloso's argument for a reissue in 3 separate CDs is not realistic. For starters all the music fits in a single CD, and the original LPs, all under the 30-minute mark hardly justify the format he suggests. In this day an age, a CD really has to be special to merit some attention from the potential buyers. Some heavy marketing will be needed too – and whoever has to do it will long for the missed anniversaries, the 50th of bossa in 2008/9 and now his 80th birthday.

Here's hoping that it happens soon.

And happy birthday!


rrhampton20 said...

Hi Fernando,
I have loved Joao Gilbert's music my whole life. It is exquisite. Thank you for posting information about his 80th birthday. I would love to see him in concert. Is there any chance he would play and sing soon in Brazil? I am planning to visit there. Thanks! Robin

Fernando Ortiz de Urbina said...

Hi Robin - Good question, see my next post.

Good luck and thanks,