This is quite a painful disc to listen to. Not because of the musicwhich is beautifulbut because of the events surrounding it. Recorded in October 1962, it was to be tenor saxophonist Ike Quebec's final album. Less than four months later he died of lung cancer. This fact rather sticks in the mind like a house guest who has outstayed his or her welcome.
Wistful, pretty and elegiac, the music is somehow a fitting final statement from a player best known for more muscular, extrovert, swing-to-bop balladeering. The wonder is that Quebec was able to create such lovely music when he must have known his end was near. But as session engineer Rudy Van Gelder says in the liner notes to this RVG remaster, "Ike always played beautifully, even at the end, when he was dying...I mean, literally dying." And it's true. Despite the circumstances surrounding it, Bossa Nova Soul Samba is an album of beauty.
1962, of course, was the year it seemed every jazzman was making a bossa nova album. Tenor saxophonist Stan Getz began the trend with Jazz Samba (Verve, 1962), made with guitarist Charlie Byrd and containing the chart hit "Desafinado." By the time Quebec was in the studio, even big-tone tenor maestro Coleman Hawkins was on board, with Desafinado (Impulse!, 1962). Next up were Sun Ra & The Solar Myth Arkestra with Sugar Loaf Mountain Bossa Party! (no, I made that up actually, but it might have been).
By the end of the year, the genre was already in danger of becoming a cliché; not least for its reliance on the songwriting of Antonio Carlos Jobim, whose tunes dominated many track listings. But Quebec had the wit to ring the changes with the material for Bossa Nova Soul Sambahe began his time with Blue Note, after all, as an A&R man. The tunes are the real thing, but little known; Brazilian composers are used, but not Jobim; and there are two originals by Quebec ("Blue Samba," "Me 'n' You"), who also, imaginatively, re-arranges Anton Dvorak's "Goin' Home."
Bossa nova was well suited to Quebec's physical and, one imagines, mental states at the time of this recording. It requires no strutting or grandstanding, and lends itself instead to subtlety and ellipsis. The saxophonist plays with heartrending tenderness throughout, sensitively supported by guitarist Kenny Burrell, drummer Willie Bobo and bassist Wendell Marshall.
If you already know Quebec's chef d'oeuvres The Complete Blue Note 45 Sessions (Blue Note, 1959-62) and Blue And Sentimental (Blue Note, 1961), Bossa Nova Soul Samba will enhance your understanding of both, while also providing plenty of enjoyment in its own right.