Some of the world’s most emotionally seductive music receives a proper soup-to-nuts account of its history, beginning in Copacabana, in the late ‘50s by a close-knit group of university students and local musicians. The music spread to Rio de Janeiro where it thrived in the early ‘60s under the care a very special collection of like-minded musicians with a knack for harmony and rhythm. You may have to watch the movie a few times to keep track of Bossa Nova’s early contributors and inventors, and oh what a pleasure that experience will be.
Made in 2005 by Paulo Thiago, “This is Bossa Nova” (“Coisa Mais Linda: Historias e Casos da Bossa Nova”) is enjoying a much-deserved re-release at the moment. Here is a golden opportunity to explore the distinctly seductive music that took the world by storm at a high point in Brazilian culture.
Bossa Nova means “new trend.” The music’s foundation in feminism, poetry, and socialist ideals comes through in a welcoming exchange of musical ideas that generated such modern standards as “Black Orpheus,” Desafinado,” “One Note Samba,” and “How Insensitive.”
Legendary Bossa Nova innovators Roberto Menescal and Carlos Lyra revisit the oceanside spots where they developed and played their reinterpretation of Samba, which came to be known as bossa nova. The elderly statesmen of the form are a delight to behold as they chat about the people and places that created the music they still love to play.
Interview sequences segue into performances of bossa nova songs outside of the regular American canon. A lovely duet of “Voce d Eu” arrives like a gentle summer breeze of romantic harmony and lovely phrasing.
Nara Leao’s role as Bossa Nova’s muse finds Roberto Menescal revisiting her beach-facing apartment where Leao’s lovely comportment and singing voice inspired her flock of Copacabana composers and musicians that included Johnny Alf and Vinicius de Moraes.
Personal anecdotes about such Bossa luminaries as Joao Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Baden Powell, Silvinha Telles, and Bene Nunes, find resonance in modern performances of Bossa standards by the likes of Roberto Menescal, Paulo Jobim, and Wanda Sa. There’s as much music as there is discussion. What a treat.
Exceptional archive footage of historic performances by Bossa Nova originators speaks volumes about the mindset of the congenial musicians who pioneered the movement. A 1960 New York City apartment performance of “One Note Samba” between Gerry Mulligan and Tom Jobim (the song’s author) displays an exact example of the complexity of Jobim’s phrasing. An historic televised duet performance, between Frank Sinatra and Jobim, of “Girl From Ipanema” is exquisite.
The filmmakers compensate for set demands, of covering a laundry list of influential bossa nova artists, by frequently letting the music speak for itself. This is an essential music documentary that deserves to be returned to every few years by anyone in love with Bossa. The pure delight of hearing Bossa Nova played on nylon-stringed guitars by veteran masters of the music, is more than sufficient reason to learn about this relatively young music’s vibrant history. If there was ever a music that could stop wars, Bossa Nova is it. You just can’t get enough.
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