The 50th anniversary of the creation of bossa nova was the theme for a weeklong celebration at New York's Birdland jazz club that featured pianist Cesar Camargo Mariano and singer/guitarist João Bosco. The two well-known Brazilian composers share a longtime friendship and musical partnership that began in 1972.
Mariano, a two-time Grammy winner, has had a storied career in Brazilian music. An accomplished arranger, composer and producer, he worked with Antonio Carlos Jobim on the 1973 album Elis & Tom. The sessions spawned the definitive “Waters of March” duet with Elis Regina and Jobim and featured Mariano as arranger, pianist and musical director. Bosco, a Belo Horizonte native, became one of Regina's main songwriters and penned many of her hits while also forging a highly successful solo career as an instrumentalist and composer. He was recently commissioned to write music for Grupo Corpo's latest show, Benguele.
At Birdland, Mariano opened the show solo with “Samambaia,” an original composition that he originally wrote in the choro style, a genre that dates back before the creation of samba. After briefly addressing the audience, he then introduced his rhythm section, formed by bassist Sergio Brandão and drummer Jurim Moreira. The trio launched into a more modern jazz samba, reflective of Mariano's most recent work.
The next song, “O Que É Amar” (“What It Is To Love”), written by Johnny Alf, a lesser known Rio de Janeiro pianist, was played in a more or less straightforward format, which gave Mariano the opportunity to demonstrate his dexterity on the keys. Guest saxophonist Harry Allen then joined the group on stage for a rendition of the classic “Ela É Carioca,” a Jobim composition. The often covered song was dedicated at Birdland as an unspoken homage to jazz master Stan Getz. Allen, a little out of his territory, attempted to play the bossa nova tune from an American point of view as the Brazilian musicians around him kept things more traditional.
Bosco announced his entrance to the group with his “Bala Com Bala,” which was played with a Latin vibe. Known for his improvisation on vocals, the guitarist has a very unique style of playing—which to some may go overboard but it is a feature that his fans love.
One of the best moments of the performance came with the beginning of “Caminhos Cruzados,” an early Jobim/Newton Mendonça tune about two jaded lovers trying to find love after a series of broken affairs. Bosco began the song, making it his own by improvising on his guitar and vocals, and was joined by the rest of the band when he played the introductory chords.  A faint saxophone sound came from backstage, hinting at a miscommunication between the group, but moments later Harry Allen emerged on stage.
The show closed with “O Ronco da Cuíca,” a song by post-Tropicalia modernist Jards Macale, played here as a syncopated jazz piece, where all the musicians had an opportunity to showcase their individual talents.
Although bossa nova was not exactly the main flavor of the evening, it was nevertheless a memorable set. The weekend proved that Brazilian music, rich in history and tradition, has also evolved and its versatility is far reaching, with many paths yet to be explored.