The auditorium of La Jolla's Neurosciences Institute was packed to capacity, with 20 people standing, when Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum, a group making a rapid reputation as the royal family of bossa nova, made its San Diego debut on Tuesday October 3
Movie-goers may know the Institute's futuristic architecture from "The Cell," a psychological thriller starring Jennifer Lopez. Music lovers may have heard the Institute's auditorium's outstanding acoustic qualities. Guitarist and singer Paulo Jobim joked that the room was probably wired for sound so that the philosophy of the bossa nova can be studied, "And they're going to download it into a big computer."
Of the 21 bossa novas and sambas they played, most were composed by the late great Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim, father of Paulo and grandfather of the quartet's pianist, Daniel.
With the exception of Daniel, all the group's members were in the composer's final band before his death in 1994. Of these, one of Brazil's leading musicians, Jacques Morelenbaum, plays a technological marvel referred to by Paulo as "the imaginary cello" because its appearance as the two-dimensional hollow shape of a cello belies the rich and varied tones that Morelenbaum succeeds in producing from it.
Morelenbaum's wife is Paula, the group's principal vocalist, who brings serenity and clarity to the sensual music brought to the American mass market in the early sixties by such famous predecessors as Astrud Gilberto.
The quartet's fifth member is Duduka da Fonseca, described by Paulo as "a special guest taking care of the samba rhythm."
Their eponymous CD was released on the Velas label this year and may be ordered on the Internet from http://www.velasrecords.com/. In live performance the fine arrangements seem to be reproduced with no discernable effort. Even the unhip listener with no particular inclination towards Brazilian music will be surprised how many of these songs seem familiar, as if they have always been part of the musical landscape.
An audience member was overheard in the men's room during the interval whistling a samba composed by Tom Jobim for the 1959 film Black Orpheus. To walk out of a Neurosciences concert whistling one of the tunes is unusual and, on many occasions, nigh impossible. In this instance it says something for the contagious vitality of Brazilian music.
One track from the album was a riffy little number entitled "Mantiqueira Range," that opens with a haunting Morelenbaum cello solo. It was written by Paulo Jobim and Ronaldo Bastos and was used with great effect to open the second set.
The velvet voice of 21-year-old Daniel Jobim is held by aficionados to be most reminiscent of grandfather Tom and this was evident on "Falando De Amor" and "Só Tinha De Ser Com Você." Whereas the stronger tones of Paulo Jobim interpreted the João Gilberto samba, "Bim Bom," and introduced some humor to the second half of the evening by singing the English translation of the opening lines of the bossa nova standard Desafinado: "When I try to sing you say I'm off key…"
The end of the second set was met with a standing ovation that demanded two encores, the second of which "Garota di Ipanema." The Jobim cannon is so strong that this beloved old flame can be left as an afterthought.
Among the reminiscences Paulo Jobim shared with the audience was a suggestion that his father had always wanted to meet the California's noted anthropologist of shamanism, Carlos Castenada, before he died. Somehow it seemed entirely in keeping with the mind-bending location and the enduring culture that Jobim's work continues like a spirit guide from a Yaqui Indian legend.
Jazz concerts organized by the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library at the Neurosciences Institute continue on Saturday, October 21, with the Brad Mehldau Trio and on Sunday, October 29, with the Dave Holland Quintet. But at this late stage there is a slim chance that unsold tickets remain. Call (858) 454-5872 to inquire about cancellations.