“The Girl From Ipanema” is resplendent, a glorious word that we don’t use nearly enough; a real peacock of a song. João Gilberto sings a descending melody whose empty spaces are filled by light strumming from his acoustic guitar; reserved drums enter after the melody makes itself known and gently nudges the song along. At the 1:20 mark, he lets wife Astrud Gilberto take over and though she seems diffident (I picture her center-stage, tugging at the ends of her polka dot jupe lest she shows too much of her thighs and looking away from the audience but the only reason her eyes are open in the first place is because she doesn’t know what she looks like with her eyes closed but she imagines it’s horrible), she oozes sexuality all the way through until she exhales out the “Ahhhhhh”‘s in a cloud of post-pleasure cigarette smoke; the necessary words accented by light taps from Milton Banana or the occasional piano note from Antonio Carlos Jobim (the guy plays about a single note a minute). Halfway through, Stan Getz makes his presence known, with a fuller-bodied sound that wakes you up from your dream in a good way (like being woken up by a kiss). John Coltrane has a puzzling compliment about Stan Getz: “Let’s face it–we’d all sound like that if we could,” puzzling because the two saxophone players could not be further apart, but here, it makes complete sense.
“The Girl From Ipanema” won the Grammy for Record of the Year, and it completely deserves it. The song was apparently so good that the Grammy people decided just one award was not nearly enough, so they gave it three more, including the highest honor of being the only jazz album until 2008 to win Best Album of the Year. (Herbie Hancock’s River: the Joni Letters is the album that won in 2008, and it’s without surprise that the two jazz albums to win the coveted Grammy are also two jazz albums with vocals.) In case my tone wasn’t clear enough: the rest of Getz/Gilberto is twenty-nine minutes of flatline. There’s barely any Astrud Gilberto after the opener (except the opening to “Corcovado”) because, y’know, she wasn’t a critical success factor of “The Girl From Ipanema” (can you hear the sarcasm?). And worse, there’s barely any dynamics except Getz exploring a lower register on “So danco samba” (the second best song on the album) and you can hear him hammering on the saxophone on “Doralice” but that tiny and tinny addition is distracting; Milton Banana keeps tapping out the same rhythm, Antonio Jobim keeps playing the same one note/minute rate. It’s all pleasant but you know what they say about pleasantries, right?