The fallout from the bossa nova explosion that hit the USA like a tsunami in 1963 – largely initiated by Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd’s ‘Jazz Samba’ LP and Astrud Gilberto’s ‘The Boy From Ipanema’ single – was still being felt when then 31-year-old Rio Branco pianist Joao Donato de Oliveira Neto (to give him his full name) made this album, his North American debut, for RCA in 1965. Reissued, no doubt, to tie in with the interest in all things Brazilian stimulated by the recent World Cup, it turns out to be a lovely instrumental album of relaxed samba jazz spotlighting Donato’s lean and percussive melodic lines over sinuous backing tracks. The real beauty of the album, though, is how Donato’s conversational-style piano is framed by some lush – but not overpowering – strings by ace German arranger, Claus Ogerman, who during the same timeframe had created sonic magic for many of Donato’s compatriots, including singer/songwriter, Antonio Carlos Jobim.
It’s no surprise, then, that a couple of Jobim-scribed tunes – the classic ‘How Insensitive’ and ‘Lost Hope’ – appear on the album and they are tastefully retooled as delicate instrumentals that showcase Donato’s innovative and successful melding of two musical languages: Brazilian bossa nova and American jazz. On this evidence, Donato – who’s still alive and a year shy of his 80th birthday – was a key figure in laying the groundwork for later Brazilian pianists such as Tania Maria and Eliane Elias. The pianist submits six original tunes, including ‘Amazonas’ and ‘Jungle Flower’ and delivers some fine covers of the bossa classics ‘O Barquinho,’ ‘Manha De Carnaval’ and ‘Samba De Orfeu.’ With its laidback, easy listening flavour, it’s hard to believe that this was hip, cutting edge stuff back in the mid-’60s but almost fifty years on, it still comes across as an incredibly cool, stylish collection – timeless, in fact.