So Amateur She's Sexy
One “greatest hits” compilation, or even one track on a various-artists compilation, is about all the Astrud Gilberto the average music fan will ever want or need. Her famously breezy, lightweight boss nova, though the very essence of “cool”, generally lacks the substance for album-tracks-and-all scrutiny.
This is why Astrud Gilberto With Stanley Turrentine is such a nice surprise; an overlooked “fan favorite” that’s worth discovering. Released in 1971, it came nearly a decade after Gilberto’s “Girl From Ipanema” heyday. But several factors make this album truly unique. First, it’s the only album Gilberto made for the CTI label, after a long relationship with Verve. Secondly, on several tracks she’s paired with the great saxophonist and then-labelmate Stanley Turrentine (why not?!?). And finally, the album was produced and arranged by schlock-jazz mastermind Deodato.
Put it all together and you have a fun, dreamy record that sounds oddly contemporary. Listening to ...With Stanley Turrentine, the entire careers of bands like Saint Etienne, Stereolab, and the Sea and Cake flash before your eyes. Gilberto’s naïve, earnest cooing has always been the touchstone for so-amateur-they’re-sexy vocalists like St. Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell and Ivy’s Dominique Durand. Here, Deodato adds a pop flash that’s lacking on Gilberto’s more stately Verve material. This combination of cool reticence and clever, sometimes cloying melody has since become an indie template.
And for good reason. “Wanting Things” and “Where There’s a Heartache”, the pair of Bacharach/David tunes which bookend the album, are airy, almost impressionistic swatches of atmosphere. “Brazilian Tapestry” is the album’s high point, with Deodato’s melodramatic flute/viola arrangement segueing into an effortless sigh of a chorus that finds Gilberto completely in her element. “Zazueira” is another uptempo delight that’s driven along by Deodato’s electric piano and Ron Carter’s bass; “soulful” isn’t a word that’s often associated with Gilberto, but it applies here. Turrentine’s energetic blasts add to the fun. The minor-key “Solo el fin (For All We Know)”, on the other hand, finds Gilberto and her accompaniment in a suitably resigned, reflective mood. Gilberto’s singing is markedly stronger than on her ‘60s material, though she’ll never be mistaken for Billie Holliday.
Apparently, Gilberto wasn’t so impressed with the material or arrangements; she walked out of the sessions before ...With Stanley Turrentine was completed. That explains the two instrumentals, a muzak version of Stephen Stills’ “To a Flame” that not even Turrentine can enliven, and the slightly groovy “Vera Cruz”, on which Deodato’s piano takes Gilberto’s place. And it’s easy to understand why Gilberto was less than thrilled with the helplessly slight, Deodato-penned “Traveling Light” or a Spanish-language troll through the theme from Love Story. Of the three bonus tracks, only the lovely, playful, Deodato-less rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “The Puppy Song” is a keeper.
As for this reissue, which is identical to a 2003 British issue, the remastered sound is crisp but not extremely warm, which suits the material. Original engineering by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder can’t have hurt.
All in all, Astrud Gilberto With Stanley Turrentine includes only three songs that feature both Astrud Gilberto and Stanley Turrentine. Despite that incongruity, it’s sweet, slightly fey fare for those who prefer their music in pastels.