Saturday, February 19, 2005

Beats: Astrud Gilberto's Brazilian Tapestry

Ti Mangerei (If Not For You)/Brazilian Tapestry
Astrud Gilberto

There's a haunting quality to much of Astrud Gilberto's music, and that's what attracts me to her.

When it debuted a half century ago, the bossa nova was criticized as insipid and bourgeois. In the sixties, liberals and musicians criticized Gilberto's signature song—The Girl from Ipanema, written by her then husband, Joao Gilberto—as idealizing a lifestyle that few Brazilians experienced: a careless and carefree life on the beach. In years to come, the music would become more politicized, and shaped the movement that ushered democracy into the beautiful land.

My perspective is just the opposite: the bossa nova is the epitiome of sixties culture. It yearns for truth, meaning and a perfection.

You are reminded of this when listening to Gilberto's almost magical rendition of Brazilian Tapestry. It's a cut from 1971, and the arrangement is absolutely riveting. Do you remember that scene from Something's Gotta Give, when the Diane Keaton character is crying while working on her laptop? That's what I'm doing now, tearing, because ...

The purity of the song is almost heart-breaking. The music makes me yearn, and cry because...I wish there were someone that I could sing beautiful songs like this to.

The song is sublime on so many levels: Astrud's controlled yearning, and the orchestra work together. Brazilian Tapestry is 180 degrees from the bubblegum beats we hear on Hot 97 and KISS-FM.

The song begins relaxed yet emotional...but the tone gradually seduces you with promises of love and devotion. It's difficult to write this while listening to Brazilian Tapestry. (The first thing that comes to mind is, I'll be glad when my site is re-designed, so you can hear this music while we talk.) Gilberto never over-reaches; there's no need to high Cs and shout. The latin jazz and soft percussions take us there; Gilberto's soft and husky tone guarantees that we never leave. She's part seductress, and part mother singing an infant to sleep.

Brazilian Tapestry's bridge is typical of the genre: jazzy chords, seductive strings, a gradual percussion element. The drums are exquisite, you almost have to listen for them.

The sax arrangement is stunning, because it's so soft. You have hear the song several times to say, yeah, that is a sax, not a flute. Then, later there is a brief point when the flute actually joins the sax, which is coy and seductive. The accompanying harps, xylophones and flutes are flawless.

I ♥ Astrud Gilberto