Charlie Rouse: Bossa Nova Bacchanal

I love bossa jazz, but let’s face it, during the early 1960s there were so many instrumental boss nova albums cut that it’s sometimes hard to get enthusiastic when yet another surfaces from the back catalogues. Listeners really need to sit up and take notice of this reissue by tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, though. Bossa Nova Bacchanal is a real lost treasure.

Rouse, best known for his tenure with Thelonious Monk in the late 50s and into the 1960s, puts together a very authentic band here, including dual guitar work by Kenny Burrell and Chauncey “Lord” Westbrook, bassist Lawrence Gales, drummer Willie Bobo, conga player Potato Valdez, and Garvin Masseaux on chekere. He also avoids obvious and overrecorded material, with the exception of the venerable “Samba De Orfeu.”

The fact is that Bossa Nova Bacchanal is not a completely bossa nova album, not at all. In fact, I’m relatively sure that the title was thrust onto the album to cash in on the bossa nova craze, and after all there is some bossa music on it. But there’s much more besides, from the calypso of the opening ‘Back to the Tropics,” the propulsive samba/jazz of Luis Bonfa’s “Velhos Tempos”, the dark Haitian influence on “Meci Bon Dieu” Throughout it all, Rouse never makes much attempt to smooth out his trademark tenor sound, and it’s amazing just how well his tone and approach suit the material he’s chosen here.

The rest of the band is right on the mark as well, with the percussionists playing effective cross-rhythms, never resorting to some paint-by-numbers rhythmic loop. These are rhythm players who are conscious and in the moment—that’s the energy that sustains this music. Listen to Lord Westbrook’s bluesy guitar solo work in the concluding track from the original album, “In Martinique,” and you’ll know that these guys are in it for the sheer joy of playing.

This reissue includes a bonus track from a session done three years later than the original album with a group that includes Rouse, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Bob Cranshaw, and Billy Higgins. That track, a Rouse original titled “One For Five” comes from a 1965 session the remainder of which remains previously unissued. Clearly it would be a CD that would have a pre-made market, but here you have a great teaser for that eventual release.

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