Luiz Bonfá

The New Face of Bonfá

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In many jazz circles, "commercial" is considered a dirty word. But truth be told, commercialism isn't inherently evil: it can be tasteful or not so tasteful (depending on the artist). When swing was extremely popular in the '30s and early-to mid-'40s, big-band stars like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James engaged in tasteful commercialism; for example, they often featured vocalists in order to sell more records. But by the time Brazilian guitarist/composer Luiz Bonfá recorded The New Face of Bonfá in 1970, jazz had (on a commercial level) lost a lot of ground to rock and R&B -- and some A&R people were trying to figure out new ways to sell and market jazz. Clearly, this mostly instrumental album (which RCA Brazil reissued on CD in 2003) was designed to attract pop audiences who weren't necessarily big jazz supporters -- people who might have bought Stan Getz's bossa nova recordings of the early '60s but were more likely to get into John Lennon or Diana Ross than Jackie McLean. The New Face of Bonfá is an album of lush, very accessible, Brazilian-flavored pop-jazz; Brazilian players like drummer Dom Um Romao and Naná Vasconcelos are heard alongside Ron Carter, Marvin Stamm, Gene Bertoncini and other American jazz improvisers. And together, they provide music that is undeniably commercial but not in poor taste. This CD isn't for jazz purists and bop snobs, but at the same time, it isn't an album of mindless "elevator Muzak" -- easy listening perhaps, but not without a brain. Although not among Bonfá's essential releases, The New Face of Bonfá is a pleasant, respectable demonstration of the fact that commercialism doesn't have to be synonymous with musical prostitution.

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