In 1963, a seventeen-year-old Antonio Adolfo was already gigging professionally on the exploding bossa nova scene in Rio de Janeiro, his hometown. His career has continued unabated. For decades, he has been putting out a steady stream of admirable albums, earning critical praise and multiple Grammy nominations. His releases have often focused on the work of great Brazilian composers (Chiquinha com Jazz, BruMa, Jobim Forever), sometimes on a particular style or genre (Chora Baião, Rio Choro Jazz), on connections between North American and Brazilian jazz (Hybrido, Finas Misturas, Encontros), or on his own compositions (Octet and Originals, Tema). With the release of Bossa 65, he celebrates sixty-five years of bossa nova history and pays tribute to two influential songwriters of the period, his longtime friends Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal.
The program is infused with Adolfo's distinctive sensibility. A highlight of the set is his striking arrangement of Lyra and Vinicius De Moraes' "Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas (Ash Wednesday March)," which features the sumptuous alto flute of Marcelo Martins with the superbly swinging rhythm section of Jorge Helder on double bass, drummer Rafael Barata, percussionist Dada Costa, and guitarist Lula Galvão (see YouTube at bottom of page). The root is samba and carnaval, via a mid-century bossa nova aesthetic. The arrangement is contemporary Brazilian instrumental jazz, música brasileira with creative improvisations and a finely etched marcha rancho groove roiling under pillowy harmonies.
Adolfo refers to Lyra as "my musical mentor and godfather." Back in 1963, he gave Adolfo his first important break in the backing band for Pobre Menina Rica (Poor Rich Girl), a musical comedy Lyra co-wrote with De Moraes. This was Adolfo's "baptism" into the world of bossa nova, as he put it. In 1993, he reconnected with Lyra to collaborate on Bossa Lyra, a lovely album featuring Adolfo's arrangements and keyboard playing. A highlight of that date is their version of "Sabe Você (Do You Know?)," a tune from Pobre Menina Rica that has become a bossa nova standard. In 2023, thirty years down the road, Bossa 65 closes with one more touchingly beautiful arrangement of "Sabe Você." The affinity between the two artists is palpable.
In 1968, Roberto Menescal enlisted Adolfo to become part of a band to accompany Elis Regina on tour in Europe. An important artifact of that ensemble is a wonderful album Regina and the band recorded with Toots Thielemans (Aquarela do Brasil). Menescal subsequently became artistic director of Polygram Records, affording he and Adolfo numerous opportunities to interact musically over the next decade.
In the US, Menescal is probably most widely known for his composition "O Barquinho (Little Boat)," which has become a jazz standard. On Bossa 65, the band's performance and Adolfo's arrangement make this cut another standout, with superb piano work, a swinging shout chorus, and a rocking groove.
Congratulations to Antonio Adolfo and his outstanding colleagues for creating another jewel of an album. As the opening cut proclaims, Bossa 65 is a labor of love and a "Coisa Mais Linda," a most beautiful thing.