When I think of bossa nova, I often think of 1960s era brutilist modern architecture and the casual futurism it implies. I know that might seem like an odd thing to associate with a musical style. I blame it on Brazilla. Aside from the influence of it’s built to spec modernist architecture, Brazil’s hottest import to the American pop scene was bossa nova in the 1960s. In the middle to end of the decade, everyone seemed to want to get in on what had replaced calypso as the latest exotic spice in American pop.
Frank Sinatra is normally thought of as being the blue eyed crooner of American standards. A kind of anti-spice if you will. While he incorporated jazz into the lush orchestration of his music, it had been safe and pleasantly predictable for much of his career. I always thought of his talking voice as being better than his singing (or was it the other way around), as he sang his lyrics with the of cadence of a musical conversation. That was part of his charm and swagger as a performer.
That was how I remembered seeing and hearing Sinatra in films and on TV during the ’70s and ’80s. Of course, at the time I would have not know any different as my first real Sinatra album was a greatest hits collection on CD issued sometime in the late ’80s. What that CD did not reveal was another dimension of Sinatra’s singing ability that up to young adulthood I never knew he had.
Sinatra was a bit late to the bossa nova trend in America. Francis Albert Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim was just one of 20 or so albums on his reprise label by 1967. Some years there were up to three Sinatra releases floating around, but Francis Albert Sinatra…stood out not just as his only bossa nova recording of 1967, but truly as one of his best recordings of the 1960s.
Antônio Carlos Jobim was highly respected in Brazil. As one of its top bossa nova artists, his sophisticated harmonic structures and phrasing caught the attention of Sinatra who was expanding his creative portfolio with his new label Reprise. When the two teamed up in L.A. with producer Sonny Burke and arranger Claus Ogerman, they created a fusion of Brazilian and American musical styles that became one of the first world music albums.
Sinatra usually was brash in his delivery, but on Francis Albert Sinatra…he managed to subdue his vocal style and under emphasize notes and phrases. Jobim sang also in his traditional style meeting Sinatra half way as the two created a relaxed atmosphere in front of muted horns and soothing bass notes. Most of the songs were Jobim originals with a few American standards thrown in. Those standards were modified to fit the timing and mood of the bossa nova compositions. In doing so the pair created a truly chill album with surprising complexity.
The resulting dynamic helped to create some of the best vocals to ever come from Sinatra. It even surprised some of his long time fans who were able to see another dimension of The Chairman of the Board’s talent. Not only was Francis Albert Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim a critically and commercially acclaimed album, but it reached as high as #4 on the jazz charts of 1968 with no real obvious singles to support it.
It would be decades before Sinatra would expand his musical palette again (if you don’t count the disco arrangements of “Night and Day” and “All Or Nothing At All” during the ’70s. By the Duets series of the ’90s, I had all but lost any interest in his “new” music as the timeless appeal of his classic material overshadowed the forced sounding attempts at being contemporary. To listen to this album is to hear “Ol’ Blue Eyes” at his absolute best.