Friday, September 15, 2023

Elis & Tom: The Artists and the Recording

To a large degree, Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim’s career was defined by collaborations: albums recorded with Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Frank Sinatra, Edu Lobo, and Miucha as well as songs co-written with lyricist Vinicius de Moraes. One of his greatest collaborations nearly didn’t happen, but fortunately, there was a meeting of minds and hearts that resulted in an absolutely classic album. Filmmakers Jom Tob Azulay & Roberto de Oliveira explain the respective career arcs of Elis Regina and how they worked together on their eponymous Bossa Nova record in Elis & Tom, which releases today in Los Angeles.

It all started with record label executive Andre Midani, who wanted to do something special for Regina’s ten-year professional anniversary. At that time, she was far more commercial in Brasil than Jobim (thanks to her MPB records), but he was still Jobim, a worldwide jazz superstar and godfather of the Bossa Nova movement.

Initially, Regina and Midani merely intended Jobim to be a “special guest” on an album of his songs, but that is not how Tom Jobim rolled, Instead, started exerting far more control over their sessions than Regina expected. She nearly abandoned whole project, as her surviving colleagues explain in detail. Happily, for listeners, Regina and Jobim made peace with each other and Jobim made peace with Regina’s arranger, Cesar Camargo Mariano.

The film begins and ends with “Waters of March,” which seems fitting. Probably no more inscrutable song was ever penned, yet it is endlessly evocative of imagery and memories. Of course, Regina and Jobim caress it perfectly.

Azulay and de Oliveira incorporate restored 16mm footage of the rehearsals and recording sessions that are often revelatory. In some cases, the rehearsals might be even better than the final product. Despite being looser and rougher, they have that in-the-moment spark, reflecting Jobim’s jazz grounding.

They also had some great musicians playing with them, many of whom participated in the film, including Helio Delmiro, Luizao Maia (Arturo Maia’s uncle), and Oscar Castro-Neves. The one notable absence is Hubert Laws, who is still with us. However, Ron Carter discusses Jobim from a jazz perspective and the late, great Wayne Shorter explains how his attempt to record with Regina was sabotaged, in a scene that will have fans face-palming in agony.

The doc also does a nice job putting both artists in the proper artistic and biographic context. It maybe glosses over Regina’s sad, early demise, but that is probably just as well. There is no need to dwell on it—and Hugo Prata’s dramatic bio-pic
Elis already handled it quite adroitly. Regardless, Azulay and de Oliveira give a solid nutshell overview of the two Brazilian musical legends, before delivering an interesting “Behind the Music”-level dive into the album sessions. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates Brazilian music and culture, Elis & Tom opens today (9/15) at the Laemmle Town Center.