Unreleased track by Bossa Nuevo: Aria (Cantilena), Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5

A long-unreleased track finally sees the light of day.

Last month, my dear friend, former bandmate, and bassist Karim Yengsep rescued a recording we made after several years of dormancy.

Our band Bossa Nuevo–named for our repertoire of bossa nova and tango nuevo styles–recorded our adaptation of “Aria (Cantilena)” by Heitor Villa-Lobos from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 on January 15, 2011 at Pogo Studio in Champaign, IL. The suite was originally composed in 1938 for voice and an army (okay, orchestra) of cellos. Our adaptation accommodates not only our differing instrumentation–voice, saxophone, guitar, piano, and acoustic bass–but also our interpretive and improvisational strengths.

Karim Yengsep — double bass and director; Mikael Templeton — alto saxophone; Lara Driscoll — piano; George Turner — guitar

Our original intention was to record a follow-up album that would complement our self-titled debut Bossa Nuevo, available here. The repertoire of our debut album consisted mostly of bossa nova and MPB hits featuring vocals (ahem, me) and one instrumental tango nuevo piece. [This latter piece–“Soledad” by Astor Piazzola–was performed so beautifully by my colleagues that my grandmother declared it her favorite piece. Um, gee thanks, grandma. That’s the only track I’m not on! I don’t blame here–it’s lovely.]

Since I was to depart for Brazil for more than 16 months of dissertation research only weeks after the recording, the follow-up album was designed to feature vocals on only “Aria (Cantilena)” while the rest would consist of tango nuevo instrumental covers and original compositions.

Life had other plans, however, as the members of the group quickly scattered to all points on the globe: Lara Driscoll to Montréal, Karim Yengsep to Kazakhstan, and drummer Matt Plaskota to Chicago. Percussionist Cody Jensen continues to live in Champaign, but his band Bones Jugs N Harmony has taken him all over the USA. Thus, our freshly made track got shelved.

I often approach listening to past recordings with trepidation. Musicians often hear only what should be improved. I hear those things on “Aria (Cantilena),” but with distance I am also able to hear how well we listened to each other. As jazz musicians with classical training, approaching a “classical” piece was daunting. Will our technical faults be judged harshly? Will our interpretation be understood, felt, appreciated?

In regards to the latter, our interpretation was an attempt to take a voice-centric piece and redistribute the soloistic moments as best we could. The themes move from voice, to double bass, to electric guitar, to alto saxophone, and finally return to hushed humming along with Mik’s sensitive alto sax. All of this was tenderly supported by Lara’s attentive piano.

As for Ruth Valadares Corrêa’s atmospheric lyrics, the decision to cut many of them was difficult. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to explore them as more of an intimate meditation than the bombastic interpretation they usually receive.

Cala a passarada aos seus tristes queixumes   |  The birds cease their sad cooing
E reflete o mar toda a sua riqueza!                     |  And the sea reflects all of its richness!
Suave a luz da lua desperta agora                      |  Smooth moonlight now awakens
A cruel saudade que ri e chora!                            |  A cruel longing with laughter and tears!
Tarde uma núvem rósea lenta e transparente  |  Evening, a rosy cloud, slow and transparent
sobre o espaço, sonhadora e bela!                        |  in the atmosphere, dreamy and beautiful!

Corrêa’s lyrics seem far too gentle for all of that drama!

E, finalmente, aos meus amigos brasileiros, vocês podem se divertir com um grilo meu, uma palavra errada que cantei. Afffff … É só rir e ir pra frente, né?

[And, finally, for my Brazilian friends, you can amuse yourselves with my screw-up of a lyric that I sang incorrectly. Argh … All you can do is laugh and move on, right?]

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