Lalo Schifrin
Bossa Nova






Bossa Nova is the smoking-fast rain forest of Argentinian pianist and film musician Lalo Schifrin (born 1932) who is at the helm of a sextet on this album. First released in 1962 on the Audio Fidelity label, it features twelve compositions and blends unique compositions with Brazilian sparklers. The album is equally known for its subtitle New Brazilian Jazz, a title that deserves its prominent inclusion in bold letters on the neon-colored front artwork, for Schifrin and his combo do indeed try out new things and schemes here. The instrumental base is perfectly Jazz-oriented, there are no esoteric theremins or Oriental gourds on board; this is all about Brazil and the implied Latin American style.


The instrumental base notwithstanding, it is both the tempo and shapeshifting rhythm which make the work so great. And there is more: a rich alluvial soil supercharged with sylvan rhizomes in the gestalt of maracas, other shakers, triangles and drums which graft a frizzling high fidelity filter onto the scenery, emanating energy and vitality. The personnel comprises of Lalo Schifrin on the piano, Christopher White on the double bass, Leo Wright on the saxophone and flute, Rudy Collins on the drums and a great interplay of the two percussionists Jack Del Rio and José Paulo. Bossa Nova always remains accessible – with all the good and bad things this implies – due to the rhythms, shakers and vivid undulation.


There is that certain disaffection when it comes to saltatory Honky Tonk pianos. They are ligneous, staggering and mischievous, spawning dissonances aplenty. Lalo Schifrin’s opener Boato (Bistro) is torn (or graced) by such a jumpy blotchiness, but soon ventures into flute-carried and maraca-driven wonderlands. Leo Wright’s melody on the alto flute is lofty and innocent whereas Jack Del Rio’s and José Paulo’s percussion is delicately grainy and argentine, and before you know it, Lalo Schifrin’s piano prongs become tamer and alluring adjuvants to the tropical breeze. Oscar Castro-NevesChora Tua Tristeza continues the designed discordance piano-wise, but sees its state undulated by a cityscape-inspired Rock groove. This is of no importance once the rhythm changes and suddenly depicts tremendously fast serpentines with insouciant flute melodies fueled by Rudy Collin’s bone-crushing drums. Melody and rhythm are incompatible to each other, the laid-back euphony faces a tachycardia caused by the frenzy, however, this is indeed proper Exotica, exciting Exotica to be more precise. No dreariness is encountered, even though the track title suggests just that.


Whereas Luís Antonio's Poema Do Adeus offers a superbly hammock-friendly afternoon serenade in a tropical coppice with melancholy all over the place before the percussion thicket is bolstered in a centroid segue that lets the savage slacker stand on his feet in order to dance, Luís Bandeira's raucous Apito No Samba sees Leo Wright exchange his flute for the saxophone, a first on the album. The scenery now seems nocturnal and upbeat, Lalo Schifrin’s chords sparkle and glint, but it is the percussion and the various shakers which let this Jazz club-oriented tune stand atop. The centerpiece of over five minutes, Antonio Carlos Jobim's less-considered Chega De Saudade, can be best described as a gleeful fairy tale afternoon in the fields while it is raining. Surprisingly stable rhythm-wise, Schifrin’s piano is in the center, although every musician is allowed to provide a little solo intersection as well. With the bustling scenery behind, the superb Bossa Em Nova York by José Paulo runs on all cylinders for less than two minutes and is the fitting foil to Bobby Montez’s Cha Cha Cha Por Nueva York off his tropical debut Jungle Fantastique! (1958), although Schifrin’s metropolitan take is f-f-fast and sizzling, with whirling flutes and rotatory pianos. The accessibility remains.


Antônio Maria's and Pernambuco's O Amor E A Rosa kicks off side B, and yes, the term kick off is justified, if not by the track title, then all the more so by Rudy Collins’ conga-nurtured beat structure whose stratum faces a parallax layer of the well-known but never tiresome galore of maracas. Wright’s saxophone blasts through the night, uplifting and effervescent, with Schifrin’s piano standing both on its own feet while at the same time serving as the backdrop for the frontmost eclecticism. The rendition of Vera Brasil's O Menino Desce O Morro (Little Brown Boy) is prototypical Jungle or Drum’n Bass material, completely handmade and energetic. The air seems to simmer and flitter due to the overwhelming cascades of shakers and grains. The melodies are what one could call jazzy, not exactly open to scrutiny, probably improvised, but yet again tremendously swift and apace. All the better, for the percussion and drums are thus in the limelight.


Menina Feia is the second artifact of Oscar Castro-Neve's heir on Bossa Nova and one of the rare tunes which makes proper use of Christopher White’s double bass which fills in many an interstice amid the kettle drums, helicoidal saxophone tones and mellowed piano afterimage. Triangles and other plinking devices create a bedazzling blaze. The 1958 cantando Ouça is next and turns out to be the exception with its pipe dream-like slowness, the sweeping rhythm which schleps itself forward in the blazing heat. Dreamy piano globs and silky saxophone airflows maintain romance and languor. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Samba De Uma Nota So aka One Note Samba offers the sextet the chance to return to upper midtempo levels. Verdured flute washes play the main melody in tandem with Schifrin’s golden piano gems which provide the staccato of the world-famous monotony of the melody. The closer Patinho Feio (aka Ugly Duckling), named after Hans Christian Andersen's story and picture book, is not pestered by cacophony at all and rather gains energy from the hypnotizing maintenance of the beat, Leo Wright ‘s blissful flute work and Lalo Schifrin’s heavily spiraling coils.


It would be sad if Lalo Schifrin’s Bossa Nova were to be remembered for its breakneck tempo only, but even so, the album is a strikingly high-energy version of the tropics and nearby cities. Its second title New Brazilian Jazz is no megalomaniac addition, at least not in regard to the speed the sextet comes up with time and again (with Ouça as the pit stop). The textures themselves are well-known and have been heard before, so yes, who am I to fool? It is true: Lalo Schifrin’s Bossa Nova is the victim of its own tempo. The combo is always in control, every instrumentalist both knows his place and what he is capable of, and yet it is exactly the hyper-frantic transmutation of the Bossa Nova-based material what keeps the album alive and in a class of its own.


Exotica listeners who want full-speed in vintage surroundings without moony material ought to be eternally delighted by Bossa Nova. It is an album I have with me during jogging or while I am in a hurry, and whenever this is the case, elation ensues all of a sudden. The material remains earthbound and is never too otherworldly. However, if the Exotica listener is keen on a pinch of galactic or transcendental matter, I can suggest many additional super-rapid works, with two coming to mind in particular: organist Walter Wanderley’s Batucada (1967) who watches the topic of speed from the Samba angle and turns the Brazilian material into hectic Batucada versions, and saxophonist John Klemmer’s synergetic Brazilia (1979) with its multitudes of electric pianos, funk guitars, congueros and a full string ensemble. If tempo and motion are your kind of poison, Exotica has plenty to offer. Lalo Schifrin’s Bossa Nova is available on vinyl, reissued CD versions, as a digital download and on streaming services.


Exotica Review 468: Lalo Schifrin – Bossa Nova (1962). Originally published on Apr. 9, 2016 at