The cool restraint that pervades the work of Joao Gilberto makes him an unlikely candidate for World’s Greatest Living Musical Revolutionary. His case rests largely on his work in 1957, when he and composer Antonio Carlos Jobim made the first bossa nova record. Slowing down the rhythms of the samba to a mesmerizing stroll, distilling jazz harmony to a sketch and pop vocals to an impassive whisper, bossa nova was a triumph of minimalism. The music first attracted the attention of American jazz musicians, who found in Jobim’s compositions rich ground for improvisation, but it was Gilberto’s 1964 recording of “The Girl From Ipanema” with his wife Astrud and saxophonist Stan Getz that broke down the door in this country. In the years since little has changed in Gilberto’s sound. An understated syncopation gives his guitar playing a slight stammering quality, and his nasal, vibratoless, almost conversational singing makes its subtle impact in the slightly elongated vowels and lingering sibilance. Over the decades he’s updated his repertoire somewhat: he’s got a handful of originals, backed with a deep catalog of songs by the likes of Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, as well as more recent stars like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. But the essence of Gilberto’s art has never been a search for novelty–it’s a constant process of refinement. For this rare Chicago appearance Gilberto will perform alone, but as his most recent studio album, Joao voz e violao (Verve, 2000), makes clear, his greatness is fully realized in just his guitar playing and that voice. Tuesday, July 29, 8 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay & Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dario Zalis.