Two masters, 20 tracks
According to the liner notes of this new, expanded edition of the Frank Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim album, the biggest worry Sinatra’s entourage had was whether could sing softly. Fans knew the self-described saloon singer as someone who could belt out a tune. The Brazilian composer Jobim wrote hushed, gentle tunes that swayed more than swung. Sinatra was the Chairman of the Board while Jobim was simply Tom. While music critics lauded both of these men as at the height of their creative powers during the mid-sixties, no one knew for sure if their music would yield serendipitous results or if the duo’s styles would grate noisily against each others.
Sinatra’s camp didn’t have to worry. Even when Frank swung loudly, he could always break down a line into a meaningful whisper. For the most part, the Chairman keeps the volume down here and does so with excellent results. Jobim’s Portuguese lyrics translate awkwardly into English. This becomes clear on the few songs that Sinatra sings in English and Jobim adds his part in his native language. The English sounds clunky while the Portuguese comes off as lilting and fluid. But Frank is always smooth. As proof, consider the way in which he delivers these lines from “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)” with a romantic flair: “Believing that life was only a bitter and tragic joke / have found with you / the meaning of existence / o my love.” Sinatra takes your breath away and makes you want to bow down to love.
Of course, Sinatra is able to do this with more conventional tunes. He can make a line like “When fortune cries ’Nay, Nay’ to me” from Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You” sound as natural as someone asking how’s the weather. What Jobim adds to this and the other nine songs from the original album from 1967 is a bossa nova beat and tropical rhythms. His nylon-string guitar sounds as inviting as the summer wind, and the percussionists Jobim brought to the orchestral sessions keep the tempo lively without ever playing fast.
The second ten songs from this 20-track disc were recorded two years later. Sinatra was unhappy with the results and initially killed the disc after it was ready for release (it came out as an eight-track tape, but the album was not issued). Frank later allowed seven of the cuts to appear on the album Sinatra & Company in 1971 and the other three cuts have shown up on later Sinatra compilations. This new release is the first time all 20 songs have appeared on the same disc.
It’s unclear why Sinatra objected to these last ten tracks. His voice may sound a little forced on cuts like “Water to Drink (Aqua de Beber)” and “Someone to Light Up My Life”, but this is compensated by the fact that Frank does sound a bit more mature. The breeziness of the first disc has been replaced by a more reflective artist. The last three cuts that Sinatra found most abhorrent (“Wave”, “Desafinado (Off-Key)” and “Bonita”) feature him singing in a lower pitch, but he hits the notes with authority. Sinatra’s voice may rumble at times, but this makes the times he soars come off as even more inspiring. The phrasing is still perfect, and the intentional atonal notes of “Desafinado (Off-Key)” are sung passionately.
Jobim keeps a lower profile throughout the 20 songs. While they are co-billed and at times sing duets, this is clearly Sinatra’s show. Tom brought almost all the songs and the style in which they were performed. He was smart enough or humble enough to contribute and then stay out of the way. The high quality of the results, still potent more than 30 years after they were recorded, suggest Jobim took the right course of inaction.