From Brazilto Berkeley 

Milton Nascimento and the Jobim Trio celebrate the birth of bossa nova at Cal Performances.

As a little boy growing up in Três Pontes, a rural town in the landlocked Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Milton Nascimento loved looking up at the night sky with a small telescope given to him by his father, a math professor, amateur astronomer, and disc jockey at a local radio station. It was then that he also first heard João Gilberto's 1958 recording of "Chega De Saudade" (known in English as the jazz standard "No More Blues"), the song that launched the international bossa nova movement. "It was very new," Nascimento recalled in an e-mail. "And it opened the door for musicians all over Brazil to try new things." But not for Nascimento, yet.

Years later, 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. "He handed me one and I burned all papers and we went to a bar owned by a friend of ours," a celebration that lasted until the following afternoon.

You could say that Borges' match kindled one 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." With his gorgeous multi-octave voice and uncanny gift for combining disparate elements in his arrangements, Nascimento is often the most effective interpreter of his own music, though an international array of artists has covered his songs, including Argentine nueva canción icon Mercedes Sosa, legendary saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, rising bass star Esperanza Spalding, and dozens of Brazilian performers.

The fall North American tour that brings Nascimento to Berkeley on Saturday for a Cal Performances concert at Zellerbach Hall marks the release of his latest album, Novas Bossas, a project celebrating the 50th anniversary of bossa nova. As on the CD, he's accompanied by the Jobim Trio (actually a quartet) featuring guitarist Paulo and pianist Daniel Jobim (son and grandson, respectively, of the late, seminal bossa nova composer Antonio Carlos Jobim), bassist Rodrigo Villa, and drummer Paulo Braga, a confederate of Nascimento's from the Berimbau Trio, a mid-'60s Minas Gerais band that also featured rising pianist/arranger Wagner Tiso.

The Novas Bossas project grew out of a Rio concert last year celebrating Jobim's 80th birthday. The performance was so well received they were commissioned to record Jobim's "Samba do Avião" for a soap opera (Brazilian soapies attract huge audiences across Latin America), an assignment that opened the door to a deeper collaboration.

"We started to get together in my house to discuss ideas and musical projects, the same way we musicians used to do in the old days," Nascimento wrote. "Everybody meeting in each other houses to trade albums, think and try new arrangements. This informal gathering is very rare nowadays. Time is passing by way too fast and we almost never do this kind of gathering."

Nascimento is famous for a vast sonic palette that seamlessly blends rock and jazz, Portuguese fado and Spanish guitars, Andean flutes and Gregorian chants. But like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Jorge Ben, fellow música popular brasileira stars who came of age in the early 1960s, bossa nova is the foundation of his sound. While he'll be dipping into his own treasure trove of songs on the tour, Nascimento is focusing on the spare, beautifully textured Novas Bossas arrangements. The exquisite album includes beloved hits, such as "Caminhos Cruzados," "Inútil Paisagem," and "Chega De Saudade," the classic that introduced his generation to an uncharted galaxy of musical possibilities.

No one made better use of the creative freedom ushered in by Jobim than Nascimento. It's no coincidence that he opens Novas Bossas with Márcio and Lo Borges' "Tudo Que Você Podia Ser," a tune introduced on the definitive 1972 album "Clube da Esquina" (The Corner Club). Like Novas Bossas, the album was the result of an inspired collaboration.

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 Club de Esquina 2, an album more beautiful though less influential than its predecessor. Paulo Jobim cemented his deep musical connection to Nascimento performing on the Clube da Esquina 2 tour, and his son Daniel, then a toddler, was weaned on the music. For Nascimento, Jobim is still opening up new musical doors, but now it's with a little help from the maestro's heirs.


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