Paul Winter / Oscar Castro-Neves
“It was a lot of fun for me,” recalls Castro-Neves of the experience. “It was a way of looking back, of revisiting my past.” As one of the true pioneers of the Bossa Nova movement, Oscar speaks the truth. He was there in Rio de Janeiro in the late 50’s when geniuses like Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto first blended the impressionistic harmonies of Ravel and Debussy with syncopated rhythms of Brazilian music. Bossa Nova (Portuguese for “new touch”) was born then, and it changed the world of music forever. Winter and Castro-Neves took their time paring down 150 songs to a manageable number. In March of 1997, Paul and Oscar recorded demos of 50 favorites, and from there the final dozen were chosen. In September of last year, the pair were joined in the studio by bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Paulo Braga, two seasoned veterans of the Brazilian Days music scene both here and in Brazil. “It was a natural match,” says Oscar. “Both musically and personally, it was an atmosphere of sharing.” Adds Paul, “We wanted to be totally simple and totally gentle in the original Bossa Nova tradition.”
Paul then packed up the master tapes and took one of his heralded recording expeditions to the Grand Canyon. He had previously recorded two albums in the pristine outdoor environment of the canyon. “I had found a there in 1985 wonderful side canyon with amazing acoustics,” says Winter. “We called it Bach’s Canyon. Because I love how it feels to play there, I wanted to do my sax parts for Brazilian Days there too. We back-packed into the canyon in a pair of DA-88 8-track machines, solar power gear, a mixing board, food and tents for a ten day stay. It was amazing to be this far from civilization and to put on earphones and hear this exquisite Brazilian Days music. I closed my eyes and was in heaven.”
Most of the songs on Brazlian Days would likely be unfamiliar to North American audiences, who may readily recall classics like “Girl From Ipanema” and the theme from “Orpheus,” but don’t know the bulk of Bossa Nova standards. “We made no concession to commercialism,” says Paul. “We didn’t do the hits. We wanted to make an album with something of the same ingenuous attitude that Jobim and Gilberto had when they recorded their first albums in the 50’s.”
Some of Bossa Nova’s greatest composers are represented on the new album, Jobim, Carlos Lyra, Noel Rosa, Vinicius de Moraes, Edu Lobo and Luiz Eca among them. Songs include “Aula de Matematica,” “Coisa Mais Linda,” “Feito de Oracao,” “Feio Nao E Bonito,” “Minha Namorada,” “Tamben Quem Mandou,” “Ana Luiza,” “Feitico da Vila,” “Canto Triste,” “Imagem,” “Por Causa de Voce,” and “Se e Tarde me Perdoa.” All are performed with characteristic grace and serenity, with understated eroticism and playfulness. Though the only non- Brazilian Days in the quartet, Winter had long ago earned the admiration of his colleagues. “Paul has been living this music for a long while,” says Oscar. “When you listen to the album, and hear his phrasing, his spirit, you see how well he understands the music.”
Winter was one of the first American jazz musicians to go to Brazil and encounter Bossa Nova first hand. The Pennsylvania-born Winter began studying sax at age nine. At Northwestern University, he majored in English while absorbing jazz in local Chicago nightclubs. In 1961, he formed the Paul Winter Sextet, which was soon signed by Columbia Records. The next year, the group became the first student jazz group ever sent abroad in a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour. Destination: South America. In June of 1962, following the Sextet’s concert in Rio de Janeiro, Paul met a young Brazilian guitarist named Oscar Casto-Neves. The music of brazil so enthralled Winter that he returned in 1964 for a linger visit, spending most of a year living in the Ipanema section of Rio and recording with Brazilian musicians.
A jazz aficionado since his early teens, Oscar too was swept up in the creative energy typified by the advent of Jobim and Gilberto. He went on to become one of his nation’s leading jazz guitarists/composers/arrangers. A move to the United States in the late 60’s helped him broaden his audience. His old friend Paul Winter enlisted him to join the increasingly popular Consort, which earned legions of fans of all generations thanks to albums like Road and Icarus (which was produced by the Beatles’ George Martin, who described it as “the finest album I’ve ever made”).
In 1980 Winter founded Living Music, his own label and home base, which blended Paul’s love of music and his passion for the natural environments of the earth. The label went on to release albums by Winter, Castro-Neves (Oscar in 1986), Pete Seeger, and even some that included non-human voices such as Songs of the Humpback Whale and Earth: Voices of a Planet. For more than twenty years, the two-time Grammy-winner has been a tireless crusader to bring music, as well as spiritual and environmental awareness, to a vast audience, having played in more than 30 countries over the course of his career.
Oscar, meanwhile has enjoyed an equally successful career. He recently teamed with Yo Yo Ma on the cellist’s chart-topping Tango album, and he served as producer/arranger for Otmar Leibert’s best-selling album. He tours frequently, and, for the last six summers, has been the mastermind behind the annual Brazilian Days music night at the Hollywood Bowl. This summer, in fact, he and Paul will appear to perform music from Brazilian Days. Oscar also co-produced The Brasil Project and Chez Toots, the most recent Toots Thielemans release on Windham Hill.
Even with their many diverse projects, both Paul and Oscar agree the time has come for a resurgence of Bossa Nova. “It’s coming back, the same way the music of Parker, Gillespie, and Coltrane is coming back,” notes Castro-Neves. “For many people, these are the roots of their musical world. Young people are looking for the sources.” Adds Paul, “In the 60’s, Bossa Nova was over-commercialized, and the simple magic we knew in the beginning was lost. Other kinds of popular music took over. The world was going too fast, and that quiet moment was trampled over. But this music is as timely and vital now as it was then. It has stood the test of time.”