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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Composer

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Tom Jobim, unquestionably one of the great songwriters of our century, fused lyric and melody inseparably, as did Cole Porter. He sang well, with supreme understanding, in a warm, cheroot baritone and played “composer” piano and spidery guitar perfectly passably. He had samba in his blood, created bossa nova as “a hunch,” and loved jazz; his hundreds of compositions provide buoyant vehicles of beauty for singers and instrumental improvisers throughout the hemisphere. Imagery of water (the sea, “Aguas de Marzo,” raindrops, stream, ocean) and air (the sky, views from airplane windows of Rio, reflections of Angela, a soaring vulture) pervade his poetry; those of earth and fire are largely lacking. Jobim struck a chord with Aquarian age children, and rode his surfboard on a tidal wave of acclaim to the USA in the ’60s that’s still rippling in Europe.

Composer (28 tracks, combines material from three LP sessions, 1965-7, no lyrics included) is the best of the three, showing some of his very finest songs and arranger conductor Claus Ogerman’s lightest hand. Tom is in good voice and has a close touch with the people. His melodies may sound like a Satie sonatina (“Valse de Porto de Caixas”) or a tin-pan alley tango (“Hurry Up and Love Me”) at times, but here he’s at his best cruising Rio’s beaches like Corcovado with Bonita, Carioca, Dindi, Surfboard, Desafinado, and yes, that omnipresent girl from Ipanema.

Terra Brasilis (20 tracks, double LP of 1980, no lyrics) is a lengthy set of pieces, some orchestral, some vocal. Track 17 is pop pap; track 19 poetry. He’s showing his age, vocally and spiritually. A small chorus is used sparingly, but still sounds a bit tacky (“Two Kites”). Moments of genius strike (elsewhere and on) the final two tracks-the wild bird on “Sabi” and the vulnerability of “This Happy Madness” in English.

Urubu (1978) is a single 1978 album that includes English translations of the Portuguese lyrics and lush, intriguing Claus Ogerman arrangements. The front four tracks feature Jobim’s nicely throaty vocals, suffused with smoke and passion, deeper than Jo Gilberto but just as intimate-on four lesser-known tunes, including the funfilled “Büto (Porpoise)” with Miucha. These are plumped up with harp, cello section (shades of Villa Lobos). The back four-fleshy, fancily chromatic quasi-Baroque toccatas with English horn, piano, strings and voices-sound a tad pompous, though not heavy-handed, by comparison.

Bob Blumenthal’s well-reasoned notes accompany each disc; would that Warner Bros. had also included all the lyrics-at least English, perhaps Portuguese, too-of Jobim’s embracingly bracing New World songs; if the label assembles these and its few other Jobim albums into the boxed set they deserve nearly as much as Verve’s, perhaps we’ll get them.