While Bossa Nova 67 is a high point in the early career of Japan's best known saxophonist Sadao Watanabe it should be noted that it wasn't released Stateside on CD until 2007. Watanabe hadn't created a name for himself in the States yet. In fact, it was only his fifth record as a leader (the first was in 1961) and was his second bossa nova recording in a row. Watanabe had a real feel for Brazilian music from the beginning, and this was shown early on. Since the '60s, Watanabe has done numerous bossa and samba recordings. What is most interesting about this set, however, is that the saxophonist's mature voice not only on alto, but on the flute as well, was already in full evidence here. His approach to both rhythm and harmony was very different from the Americans and Europeans who had indulged the form earlier on. With a backing ensemble that included star pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, future vanguard drumming legend Masahiko Togashi, bassist Isao Suzuki, Sadanori Nakamure on guitar, and percussionist Hideo Miyata on the cabasa, Watanabe played in front of a full string section as well. The repertoire here almost all standards -- "Girl from Ipanema," "Meditation," "Black Orpheus," "Dindi," "Mas Que Nada," "Bonita," "So Danco Samba" -- with a few pop tunes tossed into the mix like "Fly Me to the Moon," "A Man and a Woman," and "The Shadow of Your Smile." While the strings can be a bit distracting, the fluid, almost limp structures of the sextet are wonderful. Watanabe's big warm tone on the alto nonetheless retains a touch of graininess in it, and when the group is allowed to shine without strings as they do on "Shadow of Your Smile" done bossa style, the effect is almost stunning. There is considerable soul in the proceedings, and the interaction between Kikuchi and Watanabe is almost symbiotic. Also, the work of guitarist Nakamure is utterly bracing. For fans of Watanabe's later work, this will come as a welcome surprise, for those who waited to find an affordable copy, the Koch edition will suffice. The sound is wonderful and full, but rather than offer credits in English, they simply did a shrink job (Wounded Bird label-style) on the Japanese cover, and other than here, you will have to go to the artist's website to find them. Koch has been guilty of lazy work before, but this takes it to a whole different level. Nonetheless, the music is more than worth the extra trouble.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek