Review Summary: a samba-bossa classic2 of 2 thought this review was well written
To many, jazz has always been seen as a form of music based on technicality and instrumentality. It's not rare to have excessively long solos and shows of skill in otherwise brilliant displays of musical prowess, tediously lengthening the song to the point where it's gratuitous. Even though jazz as a genre is one of the most storied in all of music culture, it isn't nearly as popular as others due to much of its content being bloated, this being the case even for the staples of jazz. Enter Luiz Bonfa, Brazilian guitarist and jazz aficionado. After his work in the 50s and 60s with such jazz pioneers including Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, and Eumir Deodato, Bonfa turned to jazz fusion as a way to showcase his brilliance on the guitar and lend exposure to the newfound subgenre, made renowned by Miles Davis and his recordings at the turn of the 60s. What results is one of the most sublime jazz records of the 70s, and a fantastic introduction to the world of Luiz Bonfa.
But of course, as is the jazz standard, Bonfa didn't just record this superb album by himself. Indeed, the personnel of Jacaranda
is a testament to how far collaborative efforts can bolster a creative piece. There are almost 50 musicians credited on this LP, not to mention the producers and sound mixers that weren't directly involved in the music, but must of spent countless polishing and perfecting the album. The range of talent on Jacaranda
is hugely noticeable on tracks like "Don Quixote", where all of the instruments featured add up to a beautiful arrangement compounded by Bonfa's exquisite guitar-playing. The flute weaves in and out, emulating a songbird, backed by the ethereal harmonic chants lending the song an air of godliness, while the congas and the bass provide a solid rhythm, bringing it back down to earth. Frankly, it's quite remarkable that Bonfa was able to write excellent compositions while still having to direct all this talent, which speaks volumes about the amount of respect he commanded as a musician.
It then makes sense how Jacaranda
, unlike many other jazz records, doesn't feel forced or devoid of emotion. Take the Bonfa-only "Song Thoughts" as a suitable example of its earnestness. The Italian-style strumming and ambient atmosphere make it a departure from the samba-influenced fusion of the previous songs, yet it fits in between more upbeat tracks with ease, in part due to the wholly relaxing mixture of lead and rhythm guitar. "Empty Room" is another standout that breaks free of conventions and highlights how Bonfa's mixing of genres lead to a terrific end product. The soft acoustic guitar and piano that accompanies the intro devolves into chaos, as trumpet and string section into one big jumbled mess. But the calm after the storm Bonfa induces is evident, and soon, grooves between erratic guitar and the restless rhythm section forces a thrilling yet subdued crescendo.
The record ends not with an all-out explosion of sound, but what seems like a jam session. Fitting perhaps, as this really is a love letter to jazz fusion and Bonfa utilizing all of his contemporaries on Jacaranda
works masterfully. By the end of "Sun Flower", it's apparent that whilst straying from the commonplace sounds of jazz in that era, the work done here by Bonfa and crew fittingly crafts an album worthy of standing alongside the pinnacles of genre. Very rarely are the dynamics of the record skewed too heavily in favor of any one musician as well. Although Bonfa is obviously the star, his willingness to lend credence to others' performances suits flawlessly Jacaranda
, and even though the summation of the LP is an album with Bonfa's name on it, he couldn't have done it without the performances of his peers. Jacaranda
certainly isn't the only of its kind, but it has stood as the crowning achievement of Luiz Bonfa, and with an artist as accomplished as him, that's no small feat.