Thursday, June 12, 2014

The drums of bossa nova

Marketing has gone truly global. At least for those of us living in the Western world and glued to a screen with access to the internet, there are trends that everybody seem to subscribe to, at least for a minute.

Right this minute, there are two trends leading to Brazil, one the biggest in the world, the other just a musical footnote. The latter is about the 50th anniversary of the release of Getz/Gilberto (never mind all the empty blurbs — it is a masterpiece), which may give the impression that bossa-nova is all Brazil ever had to offer musically (it isn't) or even that it didn't really blossom till the Americans got involved in it.

Again, publicity-wise that may be true, but musically nothing surpasses João Gilberto's first three albums recorded between 1959 and 1961 back in Brazil. And even for the Americans, things didn't really take off until, after a few trials on their own, they got the Brazilians involved, which made the difference between great (like Stan Getz's album with Charlie Byrd) and a masterpiece.

Listening to Jazz/Samba and Getz/Gilberto, there's one huge difference between the two albums. Whereas for the former it seemed necessary to have two drummers to reproduce Brazilian rhythms (and the percussion gets quite heavy), there's only one drummer on the latter, and what he does is a wonder of subtlety and dynamics. It's Washington D.C. v. Rio de Janeiro; Deppenschmidt & Reichenbach v. Banana.

Milton Banana (c. 1979)

When I first read the name Milton Banana as the drummer in Getz/Gilberto, I thought it was a joke. It was actually the alias of Antônio de Souza (1935-1998), who not only played on Getz/Gilberto, but also on João Gilberto's first LP, which established what we know as bossa. He was the original bossa-nova drummer.

The comparison above between drummers is not totally fair. For starters, in the recording with Getz, Banana had Gilberto's guitar anchoring the rhythm, with an excellent Sebastião Neto following the guitarist's thumb; furthermore, Banana had been playing this music for a while, and even though he was from Brazil, following Gilberto wasn't easy for him either. As he told Zuza Homem de Mello for his Música Popular Brasileira Cantada e Contada:
"The recording sessions took a long time because João Gilberto was very thorough in his work, and also because none of us really knew what was next and how we should accompany the music."
Banana, still in his twenties but already both Gilberto's and Jobim's favourite drummer, was key to the end result of Getz/Gilberto. Although he may seem to have disappeared to out Westernized eyes, he recorded a lot of albums with his trio, of which there are a few available on line. If you listen to him, you'll notice that he was more flexible and versatile than American jazz drummers, who sometimes make bossa sound like a collection of licks.

Interestingly, the first one was made for Audio Fidelity, whose owner, Sid Frey, had also produced the first bossa nova concert at Carnegie Hall that had brought a bunch of Brazilians — including the Gilbertos, Jobim, and Banana — to NYC.

Ladies, gentlemen: with thanks to the keen uploader, I give you Milton Banana.

O ritmo e o som da bossa nova (1963)

Milton Banana (drums)
with Oscar Castro Neves (piano) Iko Castro Neves (bass) Henry Perci Wilcox (guitar) Roberto Pontes Dias (percussion) Leo Wright (flute, sax)


Milton Banana Trio (1965)

Milton Banana (drums), Walter Wanderley (piano), and Guará (bass)


Balançando com Milton Banana Trio (1966)

Milton Banana (drums), Cido Bianchi (piano), Mário Augusto (bass)


O Som do Milton Banana Trio (1967)

Milton Banana (drums). Rest of personnel unknown.


O Trio (1968)

Milton Banana (drums), Walter Wanderley (piano), "Azeitona" (bass)

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