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Album Review

Recorded in 1965 and produced by Bobby Scott, Braziliana is the first American collaborative effort between Brazilian composer and guitarist Luiz Bonfá and his wife, vocalist Maria Toledo. The set consists of 14 Bonfá originals and highlights every aspect of his compositional landscape, from sambas to jazzy pop songs, neo-classical pieces for guitar, and his modern attempts to integrate Brazilian folk forms. Certainly there was an ulterior motive for Philips recording this album with Scott — the worldwide success of Astrud and João Gilberto's collaborations with Stan Getz. His arrangements lend a certain modern jazz tenet to some of these tunes — such as the beautiful"Cavaquinho," with Toledo scatting ever so elegantly amid a small jazz combo that features the great drummer Hélcio Milito backed by a very young Dom Um Romão. But given the utter range and sophistication in Bonfá's tunes, it's hard to accept without critical consideration that he wasn't interested in presenting his startling musical range. Still, samba and bossa were the order of the year and there are some real gems here. The opener, "Whistle Samba," features a whistling Bonfá and wordless vocals byToledo with Bonfá's guitar careening warmly all through the mix. There is a truly gorgeous version of "Samba de Orfeu," rendered by skittering percussion, a lilting jazz piano, and Bonfá's crystal-clear yet dazzling guitar. His shimmering elegance and effortless melodic and improvisational invention — even in brief tunes — are marks of true genius. Only Baden Powell at his very best inspired as much. (For more dazzling proof, check out the solo piece, "Improviso.") The moving, romantic "Pierrot," with a colorful — almost syrupy — string chart is fine accompaniment to Bonfá's guitar, but it's really the warm, romantic, sensual voice of Toledo that gives the tune wings. Likewise, the dripping sadness and aching strings in "Saudade" enter in a schmaltzy manner, only to be completely disarmed by that haunting voice and the understated grace of Bonfá's large palette of chord shapes. There is nice production work on "Guanabara," a wordless scatted samba with gorgeous drumming by Milito and Um Romão playing all the hand percussion. Ultimately, Braziliana is one of Bonfá's signature recordings, and a wonderfully intimate way to hear Maria Toledo at the height of her powers.

Braziliana, Maria Helena Toledo
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