Yo-Yo Ma tackles Brazil
by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., August 4, 2003) – Having enjoyed commercial and some critical success as well as several Grammy Awards over the past decade for his extra-classical efforts, including examinations of American folk, pan-Asian music and Argentine tango, it’s no surprise that cellist Yo-Yo Ma should turn his sights – or his ears – toward Brazil, itself a melting pot of pan-cultural influences as expressed in the diverse music of that country, as reflected in the expansive concert, “Yo-Yo Ma’s Brazil,” in the Shed at Tanglewood on Sunday night.

Deftly coordinated with the release just last week of “Obrigado Brazil” (Sony Classical), the latest of Ma’s crossover efforts, the concert ranged from the European-influenced concert music of Brazilian composer/cellist Heitor Villa-Lobos to the sprightly choros of Pixinguinha to the infectious bossa nova of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Joining Ma was an ensemble of musicians who appear on the recording, including Sergio and Odair Assad, a guitar duo of Brazilian brothers, Brazilian-born percussionist Cyro Baptista, Cuban saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, Brazilian bassist Nilson Matta, Brazilian vocalist/guitarist Rosa Passos, and Ma’s British accompanist, Kathryn Stott, on piano.

Ma and Stott kicked things off with three cello-piano duets. “Cristal,” written by contemporary Brazilian jazz pianist Cesar Camargo Mariano, was evocative and introduced some of the basic rhythmic and harmonic elements of Brazilian music that would be explored more in depth over the next two-and-a-half hours. Pieces by Villa-Lobos and Camargo Mozart Guarnieri allowed Ma to find his place in the music, the former with its plaintive, rubato melody, the latter with its Gershwin-like jazz rhythms and sonorities.

Ma performed several numbers with the Assad Brothers, including the lively “Samambaia” by Mariano, a rag-like choro and, in a trip south of the border, a tango by Astor Piazzolla. On this soggy, humid night, the musicians battled their wood instruments to a draw, trying to coax brightness out of the unforgiving dampness.

Things picked up when the full ensemble took the stage for a couple of numbers by Jobim. Passos was a remarkable vocalist, boasting one of those contradictory voices that are strong and forceful while implying a cool, seductive intimacy. “O Amor em Paz” was deliriously slow and sensual, with Ma echoing Passos’s vocal lines on cello and Stott falling into the pocket, while the more upbeat “Chega de Saudade” provided Baptista with the opportunity to offer a few of his many textures and colors of percussion.

The addition of Paquito D’Rivera’s soprano saxophone to the ensemble after intermission kicked the program into high gear, and D’Rivera seemed to inspire Ma to his most lyrical heights of the evening, the players trading fours jazz-style and Ma seemingly mimicking the saxophonist’s blue notes and glissandos.

The second set was occasionally marred by an electronic glitch seemingly originating in one of the guitar cords, causing an occasional loud pop in the p.a., and the program, which dragged on past 11, could have packed a more incisive punch with some trimming.

But the second set was also juiced by a version of D’Rivera’s composition, “Afro,” a “Third Stream” work in which Ellingtonian interlocking melodies met Bang on a Can-inspired minimalism, and by a wonderful hand-clap solo by Baptista that emphasized the organic origins of the complex rhythms. It also featured some of the only dancing of the night, with Baptista’s body percussion snaking through his hips and legs, accompanying music that at times cried out for movement.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 5, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

To send a message to Seth Rogovoy
content management programming and web design