In the past two seasons, Duke Performances has taken a bold step in programming their concerts by presenting mini-series within their schedule that concentrate on a specific musical theme or towering artist. This year they are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the birth of modern Brazilian music with their series called “Brazil 58.” This evening concert presented a rare opportunity to heart the great singer and composer Milton Nascimento along with the Jobim Trio. This trio is not only named to honor Antonio Carlos Jobim, generally regarded as the greatest composer and diplomat for contemporary Brazilian music, but also has his son, guitarist Paulo Jobim, and his grandson, pianist Daniel Jobim, as part of the group.
This was a simple and basic setup: piano, an amplified classical guitar, a relatively modest drum kit and bass. No towering speakers or a battery of percussion instruments, just the basics. The four players of the quartet came out and settled right into what may be the perfect example of the Bossa Nova sound – “One Note Samba.” This is just what the name says: much of the melody is indeed one note but the harmonization and rhythmic underpinning is the essence of the Bossa Nova sound. Next was “Corcovado,” perhaps the most well-known and evocative of Jobim’s songs – a true tone painting of the sensuality of Rio de Janiero. Daniel Jobim was the singer for this and several others and for those who wandered in not knowing who Milton Nascimento is, there were many who thought this was the whole show, especially since the bass player was not listed or pictured in the program. But then – he arrived, in grand fashion.
Nascimento, one of the originators of this complex but alluring music, ambled onto the stage like a king taking his throne. A large and imposing man with dreadlocks and sunglasses, his physical bearing belies the sweetness and comfort of his still powerful voice. Everything was sung in the original Portuguese, and while that didn’t detract from the performance it would have been nice to have at least known a bit about each song.
Nascimento also has a beautiful falsetto that he uses to just the right effect without wearing out its welcome. One rather bizarre practice that took place throughout the concert was a young boy who would come out and present Nascimento with his guitar and then return to take it offstage. A simple guitar stand on stage would have served the same purpose and avoided the awkwardness of what appeared to almost elevate Nascimento to a deity.
There was a large Brazilian, or at least Portuguese-speaking contingent, in the audience and they would sing along at full volume from the balcony. The selections were varied in both mood and tempo, and were a wonderful cross-section of the great diversity of Brazilian music. It was especially interesting to actually watch the musicians create that irresistible rhythm that is the backbone of Bossa Nova.