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The Waters of March

Joao GilbertoSince Rio de Janeiro is the focus of a lot of the world’s attention at the moment, and since I’ve just watched The Girl from Ipanema: Brazil, Bossa Nova and the Beach, the cumbersomely titled but otherwise mostly pleasant BBC4 programme presented by Katie Derham, it feels like a good time to alert you to the version of Tom Jobim’s “Águas de Março” performed by João Gilberto on Getz/Gilberto ’76, a newly discovered set of 40-year-old live recordings from San Francisco’s Keystone Korner released a month or two ago on the Resonance label.

It wouldn’t take much to persuade me to argue the case for “Águas de Março” — in English, “The Waters of March” — being not just the greatest song of the bossa nova era, or even the greatest Brazilian song ever written, but one of the greatest songs of the 20th century. The way Gilberto sings it on this album makes that seem even less of an outrageous claim.

Jobim’s song is a list of things: just things. It starts with things you might find flushed out by Brazil’s autumn rains. Naturally, it sounds better in the frictionless Portuguese spoken and sung by Brazilians: “É o pau, é a pedra, é o fim do camino / É um resto de toco, é um pouch sozinho / É um caco de vidro, é a vida, é o sol / É a noite, é a morte, é um laço, é o anozl / É peroba no campo, é o nó da madeira / Caingá candeia, é o matita-pereira…” But here’s the composer’s own English translation: “A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road / It’s the rest of a stump, it’s a little alone / It’s a sliver of glass, it is life, it’s the sun / It is night, it is death, it’s a trap, it’s a gun / The oak when it blooms, a fox in the brush / A knot in the wood, the song of a thrush…” And it opens out to encompass what sounds like the entire human condition. “It’s the wind blowing free, it’s the end of slope / It’s a beam, it’s a void, it’s a hunch, it’s a hope…” The images and thoughts skip by on a snatch of melody, repetition building a hypnotic momentum, the harmonies descending beneath it like a stream running between rocks.

Here’s a famous and lovely version of the song, done as a duet by the composer and the great Elis Regina. But it’s completely shaded by João Gilberto, for whose six-minute version — accompanied by his own acoustic guitar and Stan Getz’s rhythm team, the bassist Clint Houston and the drummer Billy Hart — I can’t provide a link. Gilberto’s phrasing is a marvel of conversational subtlety, full of understated but astonishing little details: sudden pauses, skips, rhythmic elisions, and seemingly infinite ways of attacking an initial consonant or shaping a vowel. You’ll just have to get the album. And you should.

* The photograph of João Gilberto (with Stan Getz in the background) was taken by Tom Copi and is included, with many others, in the booklet accompanying Getz/Gilberto ’76.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michael Proudfoot #

    Dear Richard

    A few months…years? ago I read one of your pieces on Binker and Moses, I’m not really a jazz fan but I was intrigued and bought their record Dem Ones. Recently we had to make a little film for Channel 4’s Random Acts and the Big Dance people in the London Mayor’s office and I sudden remembered Binker and Moses and managed top persuade them to do a track for us which we also filmed….the film will be shown on C4 at some point but at the same time we recorded a new track by the duo for them to use on social media etc. Thought you might like to see/hear it. The tune is a new number maybe on their next release.

    Here is the link

    Enjoyed the Jobim piece – we did a another little film with Diego Figueirido, amazing Brazilian guitar player when we should have been doing something else for a client in Venice a few years ago with a view to persuading the BBC to do something on the history of Samba and Bossa Nova ahead of the World Cup…..they, of course, ignored us but – here it is


    Michael P

    Michael Proudfoot 104A St. John Street, London, EC1M 4EH Tel: +44 207 253 5666 Mob: +44 771 8902 771 facebook | twitter | instagram >

    August 11, 2016
  2. Always loved the Mark Murphy version of Waters of March – my favourite English language interpretation of it…

    August 11, 2016
  3. davidly #

    Great find and tip. Thanks. I was first exposed to Aguas De Marco/Waters of March via Getz’ studio album The Best of Two Worlds also from 1976 with Gilberto and Heloisa Baurque de Hollanda singing respectively.

    August 11, 2016
  4. Also see Cassandra Wilson.

    August 11, 2016
  5. Only last night I was listening to various versions of this wonderful song on Spotify. Such intriguing lyrics. Thanks for the post.

    August 11, 2016
  6. Charlie Seaward #

    Richard, thanks for this review. Eliane Elias has made a number of recordings of this song including an instrumental version which features Marc Johnson, bass player in the last of Bill Evans’ great trios.

    August 11, 2016
  7. Ciaran McLaughlin #

    Spot on Richard. One of the greatest songs – period. I’m not familiar with Joao Gilberto’s take but the cut on ‘Elis and Tom’ is truly wonderful and maybe even surpassed by this magnificent, jazzy solo Elis version

    August 12, 2016
  8. GuitarSlinger #

    If I may a truly disheartening , negative and in my opinion hypocritical moment at the Olympics in regards to one of the musicians who despite the destruction of many Favelas and the rampant dislocation of the poor along with Brazil’s ever growing debt .. only to be increased by hosting the 2016 Olympics still chose to perform in the opening ceremonies in spite of his long time activism etc . I’m speaking of course of Caetano Veloso . In one short moment Caetano managed to negate decades of activism even to the point of him being exiled for awhile by being a part of the very thing he has stood against for so many years . But to end on a positive .. I’ll 2nd the Cassandra Willson recommendation and add in as an off beat bonus James Taylor’s rendition as well … which surprisingly was quite refreshing and very well done .

    August 15, 2016

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