Brazilian vocalist and guitarist Vinicius Cantuária has had an active recording career for more than 30 years and he is just now releasing his Jobim covers album. If you think about it for just a little bit, you’ll realize that you can’t blame Cantuária for taking this long to warm up to the idea. Antônio Carlos Jobim was a musical figure who transcended the idea of a “national treasure” for Brazil. Not only did he write the songs “Desafinado” and “The Girl from Ipanema”, but he continued to work on music until he died. The quantity and quality of his work looms large over the bossa nova style, so spending on an entire album trying to do Jobim’s songs justice may feel like an artistic kiss of death. In the not-so-curious case of Vinicius Canta Antonio Carlos Jobim, a self-explanatory album title if there ever was one, that concern goes nowhere. Vinicius Cantuária sings and plays thirteen of Tom Jobim’s songs as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
If Cantuária were to just sit down with a guitar and vocal mic, this album would still be good. But if you’ve crossed paths with other musicians through your career like Bill Frisell, Ryuichi Sakomoto, Melody Gardot, and Joyce, then why not call on them for help? So he does, and the support they provide is damn respectful. Vinicius Canta Antonio Carlos Jobim doesn’t come across sounding like some star-studded mess lacking focus, this is Vinicius Cantuária’s show — with Jobim’s content. Sure, a guy like Bill Frisell can’t really hide too discreetly in the a mix like this. All the guy needs to do it play too notes on his guitar and you know it’s him. Still, he knows his place on “Só danço samba” and “Inútil paisagem”. After all, he’s spent a whole career letting songs speak for themselves. And if you’re wondering “what the hell is Ryuichi Sakamoto doing here?” (as I did, at first) you can apply a similar answer. He’s here to play some bossa nova piano, nothing more.
Even Cantuária himself stays humble in the bright light of the music. “The Girl form Ipanema”, titled here in its native language as “Garota de Ipanema”, blends into the rest of the album without a flinch. While other artists are probably tempted to make their cover of this song a really big deal, Cantuária do no such thing. It’s just a really smooth bossa nova number, like the other twelve. The singer even seems cognizant that he might wear out his welcome (which he won’t) and wraps up the album just before the 39 minute mark. Somehow, listening to Vinicius Canta Antonio Carlos Jobim straight through feels even shorter than that.
It’s a bit like being on vacation. As you find yourself locking into a groove, it’s time to go. Where does that time go? Maybe that’s what Cantuária was asking himself when he decided to take on this project. Time flies when you’re having fun, and not many musical genres are as both fun and smooth as bossa nova.