- Moonlight in Rio
- Malaguena Salerosa
- That Old Black Magic
- I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby
- Bye Bye Blues
- Her Face
- Dream Girl
There is something truly majestic in the guitar playing and composing of Luiz Bonfá. From solo dates such as 1959's Solo in Rio (issued stateside by Smithsonian Folkways) to his 1972 masterpiece, Introspection, his sound is as telltale as the two other Brazilian guitar greats, Baden Powell and Djalma de Andrade (aka Bola Sete). Bonfá's elegance in style is what sets him apart from even these great masters. There is something utterly unhurried and gentle about his manner of playing, even during its most intense moments or in the most decorative settings (there were a lot of those during the bossa craze). The Brazilian Scene, released in 1965 on the Philips imprint, sits right on the knife edge between something as wonderfully organic as his solo recordings and the more stylized Anglo projects that were flooding the bins at the time. This date was produced by Hal Mooney, who also served as co-arranger along with Bonfá. The Brazilian Scene set features 12 tunes, seven of which are Bonfá originals, and one an arrangement of a traditional song ("Malaguena Salerosa"). The rest are pop standards and some that would be (the Beatles' "Yesterday"). The studio group includes Bonfá's New York studio band, featuring the great drummer Hélcio Milito, bassist Donald Payne, and flutist Jerome Richardson, with strings and a chamber orchestra that were dubbed in later. Bonfá's group was recorded absolutely live from the floor; his guitar playing, full of gorgeous dual pizzicatos, popping bass notes, and extended chord voicings, was captured as it is with no overdubs. This may not seem unusual until you hear it. More often than not it does feel as if a minimum of two guitarists are playing -- check the fluid, kinetic dual pizzicatos and single notes in the traditional tune, where his bass notes ground a flitting attack of two- and then one-string leads amid his basslines, which also feel twinned. Other standouts include the dark edges of "Zomba," with its foreboding horns and dramatic strings. Bonfá moves through them with his minor-key melody playing out in old Brazilian folk dance style, where chords are folded amid twinned lead lines and a hypnotic bassline -- accented on the codas by Milito. It does have the feeling of gentle exotica because of the orchestrations, but Bonfá's playing removes the flowery edges in the tune. Of the pop standards, his reading of "That Old Black Magic" transforms the tune into a top-flight samba, with ticking triple-time percussion by Milito. The band performs this one without accompaniment from the orchestra, and it is among the set's highlights. As far as mid-'60s bossa goes, this one falls to the Yankee side of that a bit, but this is no easy listening date, either. This is colorful and polished Brazilian jazz performed by a crack group with tasteful -- if sometimes overly busy -- arrangements.
Although overshadowed by the towering figure of Antonio Carlos Jobim and to a lesser extent by João Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá was right there at the birth of bossa nova as well. In fact, at least two of his songs, the haunting "Manha de Carnaval" and equally evocative "Samba de Orpheus" swept the world at least three years before Jobim's songs began to make a global impact, paving the way for the first Brazilian wave. In addition, Bonfá cultivated a delicate, precise classical guitar style, though more attuned to the traditional samba rhythm than the Gilberto/Jobim bossa nova lilt. Born near the bay of Guanabara in Rio -- his father was an Italian immigrant -- Bonfá took up the guitar at eleven and studied classical guitar with the Uruguayan master Isaias Savio. He began to work Rio's clubs as a singer with the Quitandinha Serenaders, and by 1946, he was appearing on Brazil's Radio Nacional. By 1957, Bonfa was beginning to split his time between New York City and Rio, touring the U.S. with singer Mary Martin, as well as writing and recording Brazilian film scores. The turning point in his career came in 1959 when film director Marcel Camus asked Bonfá to contribute some songs to his film version of the play Orfeo do Carnaval (to be renamed Black Orpheus on the screen). The director originally rejected "Manha de Carnaval" as the film's main theme, but after coming up with what he felt was an inferior second effort, Bonfá fought for his first tune and got his way, and "Manha de Carnaval" became a global pop/jazz/folk standard. In the late '50s and '60s, Bonfá began recording several albums for the American market on EMI Odeon (Capitol), Dot, Atlantic, Cook, Philips, Epic, and Verve, and he and his songs appeared prominently on the Jazz Samba Encore album with Jobim and Stan Getz. His songwriting skills were in demand in the most unpredictable places; for example, he wrote the schmaltzy "Almost in Love" for Elvis Presley (included in the forgettable 1968 film Live a Little, Love a Little). Bonfá's profile in America virtually disappeared after the '60s, although he continued to tour and write, eventually cutting over 50 albums. But he resurfaced in U.S. CD shops after a 15-year gap in 1989 with Non-Stop to Brazil for Chesky, followed by the ravishing The Bonfá Magic in 1991 (released domestically on Milestone) and 1993's Moods on GSP. Also, the original soundtrack for Black Orpheus is available on a Verve CD, a firsthand snapshot of Bonfá and Jobim lighting the fuse for the world-wide Brazilian music explosion. On January 12, 2001, Luiz Bonfá died of cancer in Rio de Janeiro.