CD Review of The Bossa Project by Robert Lamm
Recommended if you like
Antonio Carlos Jobim,
Joao Gilberto, Chicago
Blue Infinity
Robert Lamm:
The Bossa Project

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


t’s been no secret that, ever since Chicago’s Robert Lamm began a regular routine of releasing solo albums, his musical expression within the group he helped to create back in 1967 has been limited (the 15-years-held-over Stone of Sisyphus notwithstanding). Not only that, the strong songwriting voice he developed in the group’s early days has been sidelined by a desire to make slick, safe pop records (and maybe sell a few, too). Ironic, then, that it was Lamm’s encouragement that cajoled Chicago back into the studio to record 2006’s XXX, yet only two of the record’s songs were his. Worse still, though they were passable yet far more tolerable than the pop dross that dominated the album’s first half, they were hardly at the level of what Lamm himself had produced for his 2003 solo mini-masterpiece, subtlety&passion.

So the news that Lamm’s next solo project would be a bossa nova record was somewhat puzzling, though in hindsight, it seemed necessary. After working hard at the day job only to see mixed results, unwinding is sweet relief, which is exactly what The Bossa Project delivers.

Fortunately, Lamm not only possesses a genuine love for and appreciation of Brazilian music, singing in a restrained, subtle manner is one of his strong suits. Maybe that vaguely Brazilian record recently unleashed by Carly Simon this year suffered from too much warble and not enough subtlety. And maybe, if she ever wants to dip her toes in the waters of March again, she could take a few pointers from Lamm, such as:

Keep it short. Not counting the three superfluous (at best) remixes tacked onto the end, The Bossa Project is only 9 songs long, barely more than a half hour. One of the greatest bossa records of all time, Getz/Gilberto, is only eight songs and about as long. Ditto for Frank Sinatra’s classic of restrained beauty, 1967’s Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. This is not to say that The Bossa Project is quite in the same league as these two records, but it’s definitely on the right track. At its worst, it’s merely inoffensive. At its best, it’s sincere and downright enjoyable.

Model your originals on the classics. Had Lamm not run out of time and budget, perhaps The Bossa Project would have been comprised of more original material (which also would have made it too long – budget restraints can have a silver lining). As it stands, while “Samba in Your Life” is a bit on the hokey side, new songs like “Send Rain” and “Haute Girl” do the genre proud, and sit quite comfortably next to Jobim’s “Aguas de Marco” (sung in English, thank goodness – Lamm also knows to stick with the language he knows best) and bossa renditions of the old pop classic made famous by Sinatra before he got into bossa nova, “Nice N’ Easy,” and Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low.” Best of all, the arrangements are simple – not much more than voice, guitar, percussion and wind instruments.

Leave your ego at home. Actually, Lamm has been practicing this ever since 2003, keeping his mug off the covers of this and his previous three albums, sticking instead with variations on the squiggly cut paper strip design he introduced on subtlety&passion. This puts the spotlight squarely on the music, much in the same way that Lamm’s regular band usually approaches its albums. Fortunately, in this case, the music stands well on its own, without any flashy curves or head shots to sell it. Lamm has served the music well, and that’s really all one can ask for at this point from a veteran who may not be at the forefront of the popular music game, but still has the skill and talent to make a good record.

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