This week I review one of my favorite Frank Sinatra albums, recently remastered and updated with never-before-released tracks
"Sinatra/Jobim: The Complete reprise Recordings" featuring Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim was released in May in a collaboration by Concord Records and the Sinatra estate.
The set includes the complete original session of the crooner and inventor of bossa nova documented in the 1967 release of "Sinatra/Jobim" plus 10 other tracks recorded two years later and subsequently released in 1969 as "Sinatra and Co."
Three of the tunes, withheld by Sinatra at the time, also are included in the single CD package, which retails on Amazon.com for about $15.
The original album recorded with Jobim included bossa nova classics most are familiar with, including "The Girl From Ipanema," "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars," "How Insensitive" and a bossa treatment of Cole Porter's wonderful "I Concentrate on You."
There are a few less familiar Jobim tunes included - "Meditation" and "Dindi," along with a couple of other standards given the Brazilian treatment, including "Change Partners" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads."
The second half of the CD is dedicated to the second session between the two and included mostly Jobim tunes that were unfamiliar, although "One Note Samba," "Desafinado" and "Wave" have become pop and jazz standards. Of the two sessions, the first is a near miracle, while the second is, well...so-so.
The first meeting between Jobim and Sinatra produced magic and is truly Sinatra's last great album. In fabulous voice, Sinatra was well-prepared and dug into the tunes with a sensitivity and grace that had been missing from Sinatra's work since the late 1950s.
Something in Jobim's music re-ignited a spark in Sinatra, and he responded with the kind of vulnerability he displayed in the greatest of his Capitol albums.
The Rat Pack years changed Sinatra's approach to his music, as his singing became more brash, more "macho" and less tender. It also seemed he was bored with a lot of his familiar repertoire, and rightly so. He wasn't taking the music as seriously as he did in the 1950s, and his voice was beginning to suffer as well, no doubt due to the late nights, whisky and cigarettes.
But Sinatra still was capable of greatness when challenged, and he more than rose to occasion for two other albums recorded during the Reprise years, especially on "The Concert Sinatra," recorded and released in 1963 with Nelson Riddle at the helm and "September of My years," Sinatra's poignant homage to aging gracefully, released in 1965.
But by 1967 it was thought Sinatra's best years were behind him, not only vocally but also in the pop world. No longer could a Sinatra album sell or reach an audience with an album of standards from the Great American Songbook.
Sinatra was interested in singing more modern faire, and when the idea for Sinatra to record an album with Jobim was floated by the record company, Sinatra and Jobim both jumped at the opportunity. It's fortunate for us listeners today, as "Sinatra/Jobim" is, in my opinion, the greatest bossa nova album ever recorded.
It's obvious Sinatra took his shot at modern pop music seriously - he laid off the cigarettes, studied the tunes and toned down the Rat Pack persona, singing in a quiet, hushed style perfect for the intimate pop of bossa but well outside Sinatra's normal comfort zone. The material is first-rate, with the album centered around Jobim's masterpiece "How Insensitive."
Sinatra realized the song was special, and it showed in his astoundingly sensitive singing of this beautiful song of loss and resignation. Also special is "Dindi," with Sinatra's aching vocal one of the best of his career.
Claus Ogerman, who was known to Sinatra for his work on an orchestral project with jazz pianist Bill Evans, arranged and conducted like he'd been recording with Sinatra his entire life. But it was to be the first and last time the two ever worked together.
"Sinatra/Jobim" sold well, and the two decided to try a second album in 1969. But pop music had dramatically changed in two years, and Jobim was working in a new, more rock-oriented direction. The arrangements aren't nearly as well suited to Sinatra, sounding somewhat bombastic and forced, and the songs just aren't as good as the cream of the crop in the first session.
Sinatra sounded stilted and disconnected with Jobim's newer tunes, and it's clear two more years of the "Ring-a-Ding-Ding" lifestyle had taken its toll on his voice. It's not a disaster, but nothing clicked. Sinatra sounded entirely out of his element, and he knew it.
Sinatra had his doubts about the finished product and pulled the album for release at the last minute. Executives at Reprise and Jobim talked him into releasing seven of the songs on a compilation album of odds and ends in 1971. But Sinatra's instincts were correct - the second session, while not a failure, lacked the intensity and intangible sympatico of the first.
"The Complete Sinatra and Jobim" is worth picking up for the splendid remastering job alone, and while the second half of the CD isn't up to the standards of the first half - hey, it's still Sinatra, and a fascinating glimpse of an artist still willing to take chances when he no longer had to.
(Mark Miller is co-editor of Weekender.)