Meet the new bossa

After years lounging in the middle of the musical road, Marcos Valle is riding the bossa nova to a cool renaissance on its 40th birthday. Phil Johnson talks to the master
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Indy Lifestyle Online
In case the anniversary has somehow escaped you, this year marks the 40th birthday of bossa nova, the sensuous Brazilian style that was invented in Rio by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto and went on to sweep the world, attracting the attention of artists as diverse as Stan Getz, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. The term bossa nova translates as "new disturbance", and in the context of Brazilian music the style represented a movement away from indigenous influences in favour of American models, especially the "cool jazz" associated with the West Coast.

Bossa nova has never really gone away - its soft, lolling rhythms have continually re-surfaced in Northern-hemisphere pop through Sade, Everything But The Girl, Sting and most recently Smoke City's "Underwater Love" (used in a Levis commercial) - but a new album and tour by veteran Brazilian composer Marcos Valle offers a timely celebration of the music's official entry into middle-age. It also represents a surprising case of coals-to- Newcastle with the resurgence of interest in Valle's music among hip clubbers in Europe and Japan leading to a new vogue for old skool bossa nova in Brazil.

Valle, once known as the Boy From Ipanema after his first album - recorded in 1963 when he was only 20 - became a hit, is now 54 and confesses to being rather perplexed at his new-found popularity when I talk to him on the phone in Japan, where he is touring prior to coming to England this week. "I was very surprised - but very happy that my music was appealing to this new market, and it's given me a new energy. For a time I hadn't recorded, although I was working as a songwriter. The offers to record weren't good enough so I decided to wait until I had a very strong desire. It was good to wait because when this offer came, so did the excitement, and I said `Now it's ok.' "

The offer he couldn't refuse came courtesy of London DJ and Far Out Recordings record label owner Joe Davis, who has been hunting down old Brazilian records in second-hand shops since he was a schoolboy. "I was quite familiar with Marcos's music through collecting old jazz and soul records," Davis says. "I was also intrigued by his work in America in the Seventies, where he co-wrote with Leon Ware, Marvin Gaye's writer and producer. I mean, could you imagine Marvin Gaye with a Brazilian feel?" Davis met up with Valle when he went to Brazil to produce a new album, Friends From Rio, by some of the artists he revered from their old records. "It was interesting when I met Joe," Valle says. "I liked him and he was young with a lot of energy, and he also knew a lot of my music. Friends From Rio was a test, our test, and the result was that I knew we could do very good work together, so I decided to record with him."

The album that came out of the meeting, Nova Bossa Nova, was recorded in Rio, mixed in London and co-produced by both Valle and Davis. It's quite brilliant, and miles away from the kind of worthy musical archaeology or tasteless updating that could perhaps have been expected. Instead, old skool instruments (notably the Fender Rhodes keyboard) are blended with a subtle and restrained contemporary feel, and Valle's excellent songs and remarkable musical personality are allowed to shine through.

Though Valle may be relatively unknown here, in America in the Seventies he worked with Sarah Vaughan, Andy Williams, Sinatra and the group Chicago, and his song "The Crickets Sing For Anna Maria" (about a couple whose lovemaking is continually disturbed by the noise of those pesky insects, not Buddy Holly's backing band) is an all-time record-breaker, with three different versions appearing in the US top 30 at the same time in 1968.

In what must surely count as a surreal turnabout, after masterminding Brazilian flavoured middle-of-the-road sounds for Sixties and Seventies crooners, Valle has now become the hippest thing on the block for discerning London clubbers. On Friday he appears at London's ICA along with Smoke City and DJ Patrick Forge for the official launch of the new album.

"What happened in Brazil in the Seventies was that record companies became very worried commercially and the talent of young people didn't have a chance to show", Valle says philosophically. "Now we're seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and young people in Brazil are interested in bossa nova again - especially after they saw the interest coming from abroad. The magic of bossa nova is the combination of good harmonies and simple melody. The rhythm came from the sensual beat of the guitar, and that's what makes bossa nova so strong."

`Nova Bossa Nova' by Marcos Valle is available on Far Out Recordings on both CD and LP. ICA box office: 0171-930 3647.

Valle also plays the Mezzo Jazz Festival from Sun 9th-Tues 11th.