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João Gilberto – White Album

João Gilberto - White AlbumJoão Gilberto, more commonly known as Gilberto’s White Album, was the second eponymously-named album by the artist (the first was released in 1961).  Notable (among other things) for having Wendy Carlos as sound engineer, the 1973 Brazil-released version was reissued in CD format in the late ‘80s, and has recently been released on vinyl by Klimt records, an incredibly obscure operation that does not even appear to have a website (they use a Gmail address for e-mail).  A bit of research indicates that they tend to reissue rather unusual records… reminding me a bit of Sundazed, but with a great deal more stealth.

There is nothing at all on the album cover or on the inner sleeve that indicates much about the reissue, including which tapes were used, whether it was an analog or digital master, or even who remastered the title.

There is an intimate feel throughout this album, partially on account of the minimal instrumentation (Gilberto’s guitar and the very gently applied drums of Sonny Carr) and the very close miking of the album throughout.  The album leads off with the well known Jobim song, “Águas de Março”.  Not one of my favorite bossa nova tunes (I’d probably appreciate it more if I spoke Portuguese), Gilberto nonetheless infuses the performance with an intimacy that makes one feel as if he’s singing it just for me.  This intimacy is redoubled on the next track, “Undiú”, which despite its essential monotony (or perhaps because of it), is a hypnotic track, and my favorite on the album.  The close-miking is quite obvious here… in fact there are times when I wonder if Gilberto has swallowed the microphone.  The laid-back “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” follows, an instrumental on which Gilberto’s guitar takes the obvious lead.  The side closes with the upbeat “Falsa Baiana”.

The popular “Eu Qero um Samba” begins side two of the album, followed by Gilberto Gil’s “Eu Vim da Bahia”.  Gilberto’s wordless “Valsa” is a gorgeous piece, as is the mesmerizing “É Preciso Perdoar”.

The physical product is impressive in its faithfulness to the original Brazilian release:  A heavy cardboard cover, with “João Gilberto” embossed into the cover (rather like the Beatles’ white album), with a heavy inner sleeve.  All notes on the album and inner sleeve (which contains lyrics) are in Portuguese.  Only a discreet Klimt logo on the back cover and on the inner sleeve gives away the game.

This LP is, at the time of writing, very difficult to find.  In fact, I located it on amazon.de and had it shipped from Germany.  Amazon did an appalling job of packing the album:  It arrived in an enormous flat package with no padding and the only stiffness was provided by the LP itself.  Happily, the LP was not damaged.  The 180 gram record came out of the sleeve flat and shiny, but since it had been kept in the cardboard inner sleeve the LP was covered with bits of paper.  For the (not insubstantial) price, I would have expected a nice poly inner sleeve liner (the LP, once cleaned, went into a Mobile Fidelity rice paper inner sleeve).  The LP was quite noisy at first with groove noise and plenty of pops… very disappointing, but after a deep cleaning and two or three plays it quieted down nicely.

The sound quality is very good, though not at the same level of some reissues, notably Music Matters and MFSL.  The album has been cut quite loud, and I’ve heard some complaints about distortion on some tracks (I did not hear any).  Oddly enough, the LP sounds a bit more CD-like than like vinyl.  It’s hard to describe why this is the case, but perhaps the album was cut from a digital master.  There is a modicum of “vinyl smoothness” to the overall sound, however, and this is pleasing to hear.

Having noted this, one must balance the very existence of this wonderful music against the good-but-not-mind-blowing sound quality.  A CD of the album is available on amazon.com.  I’ve not heard it, though I have heard negative comments about it’s sound.  For me it’s a no-brainer:  if I want to listen to this album on vinyl, this reissue delivers the goods.

System Used for Review

  • VPI Classic 2 turntable with SDS power supply
  • Benz-Micro Glider SL cartridge
  • Musical Surroundings NovaPhonomena phono preamplifier
  • Vienna Acoustics Haydn Grand SE speakers
  • McIntosh C712 preamplifier
  • Yamaha MX-D1 stereo power amplifier
  • Sony XDR-F1HD tuner
  • Shanling SCD-T200 SACD player
  • Logitech Squeezebox Touch Streamer
  • Cambridge Audio DAC Magic
  • Mapleshade speaker wire, Blue Jeans speaker cable and interconnects, Ultimate Cables, AudioQuest, ProSolutions and AR interconnects

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