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11.04.09

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Phaedra

The Boss of Bossa Nova: Brazilian superstar Milton Nascimento's 2008 North American tour celebrated five decades of bossa nova.

Nascimento at The Rio

Milton Nascimento's close call with business school led to a career as one of Brazil's greatest musical performers

By Andrew Gilbert


LONG BEFORE Milton Nascimento became Brazil's most incandescent international star, he was entranced by the night sky as a little boy growing up in Três Pontes, a rural town in the landlocked Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. In fact, after years of observing the heavens through a small telescope given him by his father, a math professor, amateur astronomer and disc jockey at a local radio station, the young Nascimento moved to the state capital Belo Horizonte hoping to study astronomy. But with no courses offered at the local university, he decided to enroll in business school.

"When I was about to fill out the papers for the school preparatory tests, I was with my friend Márcio Borges and asked him, 'Do you have a match?'" wrote Nascimento, 67, in a recent email. "He handed me one and I burned all the papers and we went to a bar owned by a friend of ours." The celebration lasted until the following afternoon.

You could say that Borges' match kindled a hundred songs, as Nascimento escaped from the world of commerce and catapulted to fame in 1967 at the second International Song Festival in Rio de Janeiro, where he introduced three instant standards, "Travessia," "Morro Velho" and "Maria, Minha Fé." While his last North American tour celebrated the 50th anniversary of bossa nova, Nascimento will be drawing on his vast treasure trove of songs at the Rio Theatre on Monday with a powerhouse quintet featuring fellow Mineiros drummer Lincoln Cheib and guitarist Wilson Lopes Cançado. The sultry Chilean-born New York singer Claudia Acuña, who has recorded a series of ravishing albums with many of the finest American and Latin American jazz musicians, also performs as a special guest.

For many jazz fans, Nascimento made an indelible impression in 1974 through his classic collaboration with Wayne Shorter, Native Dancer, an album that continues to exert a vast influence (see: Esperanza Spalding).

While musicians from around the world have recorded his songs, Nascimento is often the most effective interpreter of his own music. With a gorgeous multioctave voice and uncanny gift for combining disparate elements in his arrangements, Nascimento possesses a vast sonic palette. He's gleaned influences from far and wide, seamlessly blending rock and jazz, Portuguese fado and Spanish guitars, Andean flutes and Gregorian chants.

"With my mother, who was very musical and used to sing in a chorus conducted by Villa-Lobos, I remember listening to 'Ol' Man River' sung by Paul Robeson," Nascimento wrote.

Afflicted with acute stagefright early in his career, he was at first known more as a composer than a bandleader. Nascimento truly came into his own as a recording artist in 1972 with Clube da Esquina (The Corner Club), a double album of psychedelic Brazilian pop that stands up today as a Southern Hemisphere answer to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

While Nascimento was the project's center of gravity, he was still an emerging star during the extended sessions that produced Esquina, an album co-credited to Lo Borges. The Corner Club consisted of a group of friends from Belo Horizonte, and they spent six months of 1971 in a rented house on the beach in Piratininga north of Rio, writing songs and sharing their love of the Beatles. Back in the studio, the music took on a lush grandeur with orchestrations by Eumar Deodato and Wagner Tiso.

Five years later, Nascimento gathered a new group of collaborators for Clube da Esquina 2, an album arguably more beautiful though less influential than its predecessor. Health problems have slowed him down in recent years, but Nascimento retains his inspiration as a composer and vocalist, a gift unleashed at every performance.


MILTON NASCIMENTO, with special guest Claudia Acuña, performs Monday, Nov. 9, at 7:30pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $45 gold/$30 general at 831.427.2227 or www.kuumbwajazz.org.


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