DIANNE REEVES / “Bridges”
Forty years ago Milton Nascimento was creating music that continues to be recorded today and not just as a retrospective of an amazing career nor as a retro attempt to recreate a bygone era, no, what we have here are contemporary takes. Vibrant, each artist bringing a different vision to Milton Nascimento’s majestic music.
It is truly amazing that Milton’s music remains so relevant, so capable a vehicle to project realities that were not even a dream when the music was originally written. And it’s not just Brazilians interpreting Nascimento’s music. In fact, the featured selection is by Dianne Reeves.
As I was putting these selections together, my hardest task was eliminating some great music, indeed, I could have done thirty different songs and still not run out of stimulating, well done covers. I ended up selecting a total of nineteen versions of five different songs: “Cravo e Canela,” “Escravos De Jo,” “Maria, Maria,” “Nothing Will Be As It Was” and “Bridges.”
There are seven versions of “Cravo e Canela,” four each of “Nothing Will Be…” and “Bridges,” and two versions each of “Escravos De Jo” and “Maria, Maria.” Moreover, only in one case is Milton’s voice included. It’s really one of the more extraordinary line-ups we’ve had on BoL.
Here’s the quick run down.
* * *
Kicking off with “Cravo e Canela”
is Affonsinho, a young, sensational singer/songwriter who has made a name for himself producing two quietly beautiful albums that re-visit classics from the seventies but use the bossa nova style of the sixties to do so. The results are subtly enchanting without even a hint of sentimental nostalgia. It all sounds fresh, like it was just created yesterday rather than decades and decades ago. “Cravo e Canel”
is from Nas Equinas de Minas.
Guitarist Ricardo Silveira and pianist Luiz Avellar are veterans of Milton Nascimento’s band. We rightly expect them to turn in good performances but on Tocam Milton Nascimento
they exceed all expectations. First it’s a trio record (another Nascimento alum, Robertinho Silva is on percussion) without a vocalist and second it’s recorded live. Most of these songs are best known as vehicles for vocalists, so how was this going to work. Well, it worked so well we include three cuts by the duo.
“Cravo e Canela”
features pianist Avellar, “Travessia”
is a solo feature for guitarist Ricardo, and "Maria, Maria"
displays the exciting synergy of these cohorts working as smoothly as a dish of red beans iand rice on Monday afternoon in New Orleans (and believe me, it’s hard to find a better pairing than that humble but totally satisfying dish). Most of the instrumental interpretations of Milton’s music that I’ve heard miss the mark but I am very enthusiastic about what these guys have achieved. Don’t sleep on this.
Flora Purim—what can I say. She also has three songs included and amazing each is very, very different from the other. Her “Cravo e Canela”
is from 500 Miles High At Montreux
, a live recording that includes an appearance by Milton Nascimento. Flora’s husband percussionist Airto Moreira and jazz bassist Ron Carter joined Flora and Milton. It’s a very Brazilian version with Milton taking the lead on the opening verse and Flora providing back up. Then there is a surging bass solo from Ron Carter, followed by an inventive Airto solo on berimbau, and it closes out with call and response vocals from Flora, Milton and Airto. Lovely.
Flora returns for a wrap up of the “Cravo e Canela”
stretch. This time it’s from Flora’s strong album Flora Purim Sings Milton Nascimento
. It’s probably the most hip hop sounding of all the music included in these covers. Heavy, heavy funk that's bursting with vibrant energy. Not to be missed.
Finaaly, for Flora, she undertakes “Bridges”
from her album Nothing Will Be As It Was
. It would be neither unfair nor misleading to describe this take as a Philly Soul version of a Brazilian classic. Flora’s ability to authentically work in a wide variety of styles is both laudable and enjoyable.
Equale is a Brazilian vocal ensemble that sings with both verve and perfection. “Cravo e Canela”
and “Maria, Maria”
are from there album Equale Canta Milton Nascimento
. Accompanied by percussion and acoustic guitar they produce celestial harmonies. “Maria, Maria”
in particular is heavenly in both arrangement and execution.
The remaining two versions of “Cravo e Canela”
are intimately entwined. From an album known as Friends From Rio 2
we get singer/guitarist Cecilia Vaz & Group giving us a samba-ish version that sounds typically although inventively Brazilian. The voices and percussion are easily recognizable but then there are horn and string flourishes and key changes that hint at other influences.
British broken-beat specialist/producer IG Culture completely remixes and remakes Vaz’s version of “Cravo e Canela”
as a feature for London-based vocalist Bembe Segue. Initially it might be a little difficult to hear that this is literally the same song but that is part of the charm of remixes/remakes. By now we are completely at least four generations removed from Milton’s initial impulse yet the spirit of this version’s interweaving of disparate energies and influences is precisely the spirit that motivated Milton back in the seventies. This is on the Misturada 4
Brazilian vocalist Ithamara Koorax nails Nascimento’s basic approach without sounding imitative nor retro. Immediately you can tell that this is a new recording but the elements: the heavy percussion, the evocative vocals, the narrative voice pushed into the foreground, the ghost voices threading thru the background, all of that is an accurate mapping of the original. Ithamara is well known for her MPB romantic recordings but this is in another category. I dig it, both for it’s artistry and for it’s understanding of the back story. “Escravos De Jo”
translates to the slaves of Jo. Taken from her beautiful release, Brazilian Butterfly
. The track, believe it or not, is available in the states on a compilation called Music For Cocktails - Beach Life
Turntabalist/producer/musician Joe Claussell is high on my list of new cats to keep an ear on. Here he joins forces with Kerri Chandler to give us a banging, jazzy dance floor workout featuring a blazing trumpet solo. This is a long, long ways from the seventies but then again, maybe the conditions of the seventies are not so far removed from what we struggle with today. This is from Claussell’s ground breaking compilation Spiritual Life Music
Sarah Vaughan really needs no introduction except to note that in the later third of her long career she visited Brazil and ended up making two albums of Brazil music that included collaborations with Milton Nascimento. Here Sassy does “Nothing Will Be As It Was”
and though this is stylistically the most conservative in the bunch, it is not without its charms. Yes, it’s the most mainstream friendly but, hey, it’s still Sassy and Sassy can sing. Taken from the Brazilian Romance
The biggest surprise (or at least the biggest surprise to me) was the interpretation by Brazilian vocalist Leila Maria. This sounds like straight up African American mainstream jazz with a steady blues walk on the bass line. Stylistically, Leila sounds like what a younger Sassy, which is to say swinging, swinging, swinging. It’s almost like there’s no Brazilian influence anywhere around this version; it’s an oddity but one that works. Contained on her oddly named album Off Key
, which is anything but.
Vania Bastos is another young Brazilian singer in the MPB mold but I was tremendously moved by this stripped down duet with her sensitive pianist. What I admire most is Ms. Bastos’ unhurried, introspective pacing. She completely remakes the song as a ballad whereas all the other versions are decidedly up-tempo and it works largely because of the intimacy in Vania’s voice. She resists the temptation to over-sing and largely keeps her voice steady as she offers lilting, legato phrasing. The album is Canta Clube da Esquina
Ivan Lins is Mr. MPB, sort of a Frank Sinatra of Brazilian music except that he also composes iconic love songs. His version sounds like late night, wine-light music, lush and intoxicating. All the little instrumental touches in the background: saxophone murmurs here, gentle runs from a guitar there, a bed of overdubbed male voices proving a sonic pillow. It’s a long, long way from Nascimento country but then again this is another measure of just how universal Milton’s music is. This is from a compilation called Nomes & Musicas
Dianne Reeves provides the closer. I included her robust version of “Nothing Will Be As It Was”
mainly for the band and for her enthusiastic scatting. It’s a rhythm-happy trio of Chris Severin on bass, David Torkanowsky on keys, and the happiest, hippest drummer in America, Herlin Riley taking a solo that manages to simultaneously combine samba with funk. Go on Mr. Riley with your bad self. This joyful noise is from Dianne's album New Morning.
The feature number however is the last one, Dianne Reeves’ ultra-sophisticated, softly sensual and self-determined offering. When she finishes "Bridges"
there is absolutely nothing left to say. She sings it as though she wrote it, as though this was intimate autobiography.
Time after time as I do covers, I keep bumping into Dianne Reeves. I selfdom think of her as the leading jazz vocalist of the day but her body of work is unmatched by anyone, including Cassandra Wilson, who does not focus solely on jazz. Well, this version of “Bridges” seals the deal for me. I hereby declare my estimation: Dianne Reeves is today’s leading jazz vocalist and anyone needing evidence, need only listen to how well she wears the cloak of Milton Nascimento music. Available on In The Moment: Live In Concert
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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