Laurindo Almeida & Bud Shank – Brazilliance – Pacific Jazz/Pure Pleasure Records PPAN WP1412 180-gram audiophile vinyl (mono) *****:
(Laurindo Almeida, concert guitar; Bud Shank, alto sax; Harry Babasin, doublebass; Roy Harte, drums)
This path-setting 1954 release of a 1953 recording is regarded as the first bossa nova jazz album to be released in North America, coming more than seven years before the famous Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd “Jazz Samba” LP that gets all the credit. The source was not due to the duo traveling to Brazil, as occurred with Getz and Byrd, but to the fact that Laurindo Almeida was from Brazil, and selected a program of cool jazz and Brazilian rhythms – some from his own pen – of which only four of the 14 tunes were not based on Brazilian folk tunes. Some of the tunes are still played by various bossa nova groups, such as “Carinoso” and “Blue Baiao.” Some reviewers have called this “very close to bossa nova” – it IS bossa nova.
The Latin influence in jazz had been strong in earlier years – there were big band numbers, Dizzy Gillespie and George Shearing too. However, The Almeida-Shank collaboration came at it from a different direction, putting Brazilian samba and jazz together. They were different from earlier attempts as such Latin-jazz fusion. Almeida was known in the early 50s as a classical guitar virtuoso who was also well versed in Brazilian popular music and folk music. Born in Sao Paulo, he came to the U.S. in 1947 and first played with Stan Kenton. He had a trio with Shank and bassist Babasin, playing at a Hollywood club in 1952. During breaks Babasin would accompany Almeida, adding the Brazilian choros, baiao and samba rhythms to jazz. Shank joined in and they found drummer Roy Harte at his Drum City store in Hollywood. Babasin says they rehearsed for their own education, but they also wanted to see whether Laurindo could really swing in jazz. Eventually they worked out their unique approach to the combination of samba rhythm and jazz, with a free, light and loose feeling. They got Richard Bock to record them for his Pacific Jazz label and this session is the result.
This album was one of the very first mono pre-recorded tapes I received back in the 1950s and I still have it. Almeida’s playing and tone is superior to some of his other albums, and Shank’s solos fit into the swaying samba rhythms beautifully. In 1991 Blue Note put out a Michael Cuscuna-produced reissue of Brazilliance on the World-Pacific Label. While it has more detailed notes, sonically the CD can’t hold a candle to this glorious mono vinyl pressing from Pure Pleasure. And it’s even better than the old tape. The CD has a thin, distant, opaque sound, with a deprived bass end and lack of depth. All that is corrected in the vinyl version, with the same type of “deep mono” dimension found on most of the Van Gelder mono recordings. The improved bass end adds great presence and realism to both the guitar and doublebass.
TrackList: Side 1 = Atabaque, Amor Flamenco, Stairway to the Stars, Acercate Mas, Terra Seca, Speak Low, Inquietacao, Baa-too-kee Side 2 = Carinoso, Toccata, Hazardous, No No, Noctambulism, Blu Baiao.
– John Henry