Bossa 65, by Jonathan Widran – The JW Vibe – US

Truly an ageless wonder carrying the romance, rhythms and mystique of bossa nova with him every time he brings his soulful magic to the piano, Antonio Adolfo is celebrating in 2023 an incredible 60 years since he emerged as a member of Samba Cinco, which played the famous Beco das Garrafas in Rio.

Having generously graced us these past few years with albums celebrating the history of the musical style, he follows Bruma: Celebrating Milton Nascimento (2020), Jobim Forever (2021) and Octet and Originals (an homage to his own classic compositions) with Bossa 65: Celebrating Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal. These two living legends may not have the enduring marquee value of Jobim, Nascimento, Gilberto Gil or Joao Gilberto have, but they both played seminal roles in the formation of bossa nova. Menescal is considered a pioneer of the style and Lyra – whom Adolfo considers his musical mentor and godfather - was a key member of that first generation.

Bossa 65, presumably named to celebrate its approaching 65th birthday, is a beautifully nuanced, thoughtfully balanced homage, with five Menescal and Lyra classics each, flowing freely like a heartfelt, provocative conversation, in in vibrant, brassy arrangements with dazzling solos by Adolfo, guitarist Lula Galvo, trombonist Rafael Rocha and saxophonists Marcelo Martins and Danilo Sinna.

While the collection can certainly be enjoyed as a warmly rhythmic re-imagined visit to a dreamier and more romantic space in time, Adolfo carries a nugget of joyous history of the genre (and sometimes his own personal background) in every song. Case in point: the inclusion of the plucky samba (with maracatu elements) “Maria Moita” from “Pobre Menina Rica,” a musical play scored by Lyra which facilitated the first meeting (circa 1963) between the composer and Adolfo, who worked on the show.

The spirited final track on the album, Lyra’s “Sabe Voce” was also part of that play. Adolfo’s connection with Menescal goes back to 1965, when the pianist joined the popular group Conjunto Roberto Menescal; a few years later, the two created a group to accompany legendary singer Elis Regina in Europe. Adolfo represents Menescals’s grand legacy via a seductive, elegant rendition of “O Barquinho” and the intoxicating, richly percussive and wildly improvisational “Bye Bye Brasil,” from the 1980 movie of the same name. Adolfo was there when the story of bossa was being created and it’s inspiring to hear him so passionately present the music of the era to new generations.