Report: Milton Nascimento in Palo Alto

 

The legendary Brazilian singer/guitarist
makes Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium feel like a pizza oven on July 1.

 

By Jud Cost

Beloved
Brazilian singer/acoustic guitarist Milton Nascimento must have felt right at
home in Stanford University’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium
tonight. And it wasn’t just because he filled the place with devoted fans, many
of whom, according to a hand-poll conducted before the concert, had never
attended a Stanford Jazz Festival event before. The heat in the 700-capacity
room was unbearable, maybe recreating a little slice of sun-drenched Rio de Janeiro for Nascimento and his Banda 4 right there
in the heart of Palo Alto, Calif.

 

You would think
one of the most highly-regarded universities in the world, a school whose hefty
endowment program recently built an entirely new varsity football stadium in
less than a year, could somehow scrounge up the cash to install
air-conditioning in Dinkelspiel. The two large pole-fans on either side of the
stage, aided by about half the crowd vigorously fanning themselves with the
four-page program, just weren’t cutting it.

 

This two-night
engagement at Stanford Jazz was a rare chance to see the 68-year-old Nascimento
and his excellent backing quartet – keyboardist Kiko Continentino, electric
guitarist Wilson Lopes, bassist Gastao Villeroy and Lincoln Cheib on drums – in
a relatively small venue. Everyone except Nascimento was plugged into
headphones, made necessary to hear one another at large stadium concerts often
played by the outfit.

 

Nascimento
strolled onstage last, dressed in an electric-blue shirt and baggy pants. With
most of his face covered by a mop of dreadlocks, a beard and oversized
sunglasses, it was apparent that if anyone ever shoots a docudrama on him, the
most likely actor to play Nascimento would be Forest Whitaker. The rest of the
boys wore t-shirts, Levis
and tennis shoes for easy mobility.

 

The music of
this Brazilian legend is a mixed bag that blends an occasional bossa nova
flashback to the days of Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim with the more
recent tropicalia of Caetano Veloso, along with a moderate dose of prog-rock.
There were times when Continentino played spacey passages on his mini-battery
of electric synthesizers that sounded very much like famed early-’70s U.K.
purveyors of the Canterbury sound, Caravan. But there was always a samba around
the corner to lead them back to their South American roots. Continentino also
played plenty of straight-ahead jazz piano with an occasional, dissonant nod in
the direction of Thelonius Monk, while Cheib alternated between jazz percussion
and dramatic rock-drumming, to fit the material at hand.

 

Nascimento spoke
only a few times, in halting English. Pointing to two glasses of liquid on a
table next to him, he said, “This one is pink, and I don’t drink alcohol.
And the other one is water, and I hate water.” A roadie brought out a
different libation and removed the alcohol before the band dug into a baroque
vocal line with plenty of counterpoint, a la the long-forgotten French vocal
group the Swingle Singers. Another delicate ballad, the form that worked best
tonight, was dedicated to Nascimento’s mother.

 

There was such a
mixture of material, it felt like wandering around a college music department’s
rehearsal building, with something different coming out of each room. One tune
found Nascimento’s agile vocals sneaking over the top of an arrangement like a
cat on a backyard clothesline. Another song, backed by the quiet bass lines of
Villeroy and Lopes’ understated guitar, was a close cousin of Lerner &
Loewe’s Broadway tune “Gigi.” Continentino enhanced the Franco-Anglo
connection by playing a bistro accordion line on his keyboard. All five of the
players also added addictive “la-la” vocal lines to the piece. At
other times, three of them whistled a song’s melody. “That was like when I
started playing when I was 14,” said Nascimento, afterwards. “We played
from 10 o’clock to 5:00 a.m.” 

 

Nascimento wound
things up with something instantly familiar to the faithful in the house. They
didn’t need any coaxing to augment the mesmerizing vocal refrain while their
guru made one last circuit of the stage, pointing the hand-held vocal mic at
various front-row patrons who, karaoke-like, contributed their own voice to the
proceedings. The lady in front of me sang a wonderful harmonic line in a
confident soprano that soared above the melody. I was tempted to tap her on the
shoulder and point her towards Nascimento’s beckoning microphone.

 

The final number
lasted five minutes too long, especially in a stifling house that was rapidly
approaching the temperature of a pizza oven. It did, however, make the cool
evening zephyrs outside, blowing off nearby Lake Lagunita,
feel like diving into an extra-large pitcher of iced tea. 

 

 

 

 

 

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