The Open Art Of Tamba Trio
by Ricardo Pessanha
Just like the bossa nova revolution, Tamba Trio – the seminal bossa nova combo – was not created overnight. The lineup that made it famous was the result of a long maturation process that started in 1959. That year the seeds of Tamba Trio were planted when, still as a quintet, they accompanied singer Maysa in an LP that featured songs that are now standards like Roberto Menescal & Ronaldo Bôscoli’s “O Barquinho”, Vinícius de Moraes & Carlos Lyra’s “Você e Eu”, Vinícius de Moraes & Tom Jobim’s “Cala meu Amor”, and Luís Eça & Ronaldo Bôscoli’s “Melancolia”. During this period, several musicians alternately joined and left the group. Among them were Luís Carlos Vinhas (piano), Otávio Bailly Jr. (bass), Bebeto (bass, flute and saxophone), Helcio Milito (drums) and Roberto Menescal (guitar). Luís Eça was a kind of musical handyman. He took turns playing the piano, writing the arrangements and conducting the strings.
The following year the band toured Argentina with Maysa and also accompanied vocalist Leny Andrade on gigs at the Manhattan nightclub in Rio. But it was only on a historical night in 1962 in the Bottles Bar in Copacabana that Tamba Trio had the first solo gig under their own name. That night, illuminated by flashlights handled by the two brothers that owned the place, Luís Eça (piano), Bebeto (bass, flute) and Helcio Milito (percussion) inaugurated a new phase in Brazilian instrumental music.
Tamba Trio was the most influential bossa combo ever. Following their path, many other trios appeared. To understand why this happened all it takes is a quick look at the experience each of the founding members had. Born in Rio, Luís Eça (1936-1992) was a prodigy child. At 3 he could already harmonize with his left hand while playing his little toy piano. Later he won a scholarship at an international music contest and left for Viena to study with Hans Graff. At the age of 16, after having classes with artists like Petrus Verdier, Friedrich Gulda, Martha Argerich and Jacques Klein, Eça became a professional.
In 1955, Eça made his first record: Uma Noite no Plaza. At that time he led a jazz group with the same format as the Nat King Cole Trio (no drums). His companions were Paulo Ney (electric guitar) and Eduardo Lincoln (bass) who would later acquire fame as the leader of dance hall bands. Standards like “Three Coins in a Fountain” and Maysa’s “Melancolia” were part of the repertoire as well tunes by innovative composers such as Garoto (“Reloginho da Vovó), Billy Blanco (“Estatuto da Gafieira”) and Luís Bonfá (“Canção do Vaqueiro. This last track already included features that would eventually become Tamba Trio trademarks: their superb instrumental performance and sophisticated vocal arrangements.
Bebeto (real name Adalberto José de Castilho e Sousa) was born in Rio in 1939 and is a descendant of John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), the author of famous marches and the American national anthem. At the beginning of his career he played the saxophone and later moved on to the flute and bass. His vocals, soft and intimate like João Gilberto’s, are another trademark of Tamba Trio’s sound. Bebeto joined the group after founding member Otávio Bailly Jr. left to play with another trio: Bossa Três.
Helcio Milito, born in São Paulo in 1931, invented the tamba, the percussion set after which the band was named. The tamba (the word is an Indian name for a kind of tree) consists of three drums played with timpani sticks. During recordings Milito used brooms on the snare drum of the set. The instrument was patented and since then has been available in countries like Japan, Germany, England and the USA. “I like tamba’s sound because it enables the player to achieve a better rhythmic harmony when compared to a regular drum set. I think the drum set is too much attached to the industrialized world, Europe, USA...,” says Milito.
He soon left to the USA where he studied with Harry Miller and Charles Persip and became the first Brazilian to play in an orthodox jazz band when he toured Canada and American universities with Mitchell-Rouff group. Milito introduced the bossa nova beat in the US together with Luís Bonfá in the recording of Black Orpheus and was invited to play in João Gilberto’s first record but couldn’t do it because at that time he was a member of Ary Barroso’s orchestra. In 1964 Milito left Tamba Trio and was replaced by Rubem Ohana de Miranda who brought the normal drum set to the band. Ohana was an experienced musician who had played with artists like Waldir Calmon, Cipó, guitarist Bola Sete and singer Maysa.
Pianist Laércio de Freitas and bass player Dorio were also members of Tamba Trio during different phases. In 1967, with Dorio on bass, and consequently called Tamba 4, the band recorded an album in the US – We and the Sea – produced by Creed Taylor. Tamba 4 grew even more. It later became Tamba 6 with the arrival of singer Flora Purim and American singer/dancer Lennie Dale. Flora Purim moved to the US for a successful solo career. Later Eça formed Sagrada Família, a big band with 13 musicians. Among them was singer Joyce of later fame.
Along its journey, Tamba had many different formations and many breakups and reunions. The last one happened in 1989 at People, a nightclub in Rio, but the albums recorded for Universal (then called Philips) by the original lineup are the best of their career. Still today they remain fresh and innovative. It was very easy for us to sing and harmonize in chorus”, remembers Bebeto. Luís Eça was in charge of the vocal arrangements and the whole band created the instrumental part. On the first four records guitarist Durval Ferreira made special appearances in some tracks. The recording of the debut album – Tamba Trio – in 1962 took three months and was made right after their first American tour. The format of this LP was the role model for all the other bossa nova trios that came after Tamba Trio. It featured tunes by Menescal & Bôscoli (“O Barquinho”), Carlos Lyra (“Influência do Jazz”), Eça himself (“Tamba”) Durval Ferreira & Maurício Einhorn (“Batida Diferente”), Murilo Pessoa (“Batucada”) – a solo vocal by Eça, Chico Feitosa & Lula Freire (“O Amor que Acabou”) – a solo vocal by Bebeto.
In 1963 came the second album – Avanço – that had the same characteristics of the first: exquisite vocal harmonies, a light but tense percussion always perfectly tuned to Eça’s erudite but full of swing piano topped by tender flute phrases. The highlights here are “Garota de Ipanema” (Tom Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes), “Mas que Nada” (Jorge Ben) with a superb tenor sax solo by Bebeto, “Sonho de Maria” (Marcos e Paulo Sérgio Valle), “Samba da Minha Terra” (Dorival Caymmi), “Tristeza de Nós Dois” (Durval Ferreira, Bebeto & Mauricio Einhorn), “Moça Flor” (Durval Ferreira & Luís Fernando Freire) with another great sax solo by Bebeto, and “Rio” (Menescal & Bôscoli).
The third album, Tempo, recorded in 1964, includes “Berimbau” (Baden Powell & Vinicius de Moraes) and “Nuvens” (Durval Ferreira & Mauricio Einhorn). “Nuvens” features a fantastic arrangement for strings by Eça. Another important album in Tamba Trio’s career is 5 na Bossa, recorded live in São Paulo during a concert together with singers Nara Leão and Edu Lobo. The highlight here is the short instrumental suite they inserted in “O Morro Não Tem Vez” (Tom Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes), that gets an enthusiastic response from the audience. By this time Ohana had already joined the band after Milito’s departure.
The following album – Tamba Trio (1966) – features songs by the post-bossa nova generation of composers. It includes “Procissão” (Gilberto Gil), “Quem me Dera” (Caetano Veloso), “Canção do Nosso Amor” (Silveira & Dauto), “Minha” (Francis Hime & Ruy Guerra) and “Imagem,” a standard by Eça himself in partnership with Aloysio de Oliveira.
An anthology was released in 1968. Also called Tamba Trio, this LP included two songs recorded in Mexico in 1966 – “Desafinado” (Tom Jobim & Newton Mendonça) and “Consolação” (Baden Powell & Vinicius de Moraes). The others “Só Danço o Samba” (Tom Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes), “Reza” (Edu Lobo & Ruy Guerra), “Água de Beber” (Tom Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes) and “Corcovado” (Tom Jobim), followed the format of the 5 na Bossa concert. This anthology marked the end of Tamba Trio’s most creative times. And until today, thirty years later, their music sounds innovative and fresh.
©Ricardo Pessanha 2006