Family affair with a bossa nova beat: Milton Nascimento

Boston Globe, October 9, 2008

On “Novas Bossas,” the latest project from singer and composer Milton Nascimento, two legends of Brazilian – and by extension, global – popular music find their long-delayed confluence.

The first is the late Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim, the seminal songwriter of the bossa nova movement, whose compositions, artfully rearranged, make up the bulk of the record’s program. The other is Nascimento himself, a protean figure whose immense body of work has hovered both above the Brazilian scene, taking in all of its regional styles and influences, and away from it with, among other things, masterly incursions into jazz.

Born of a Rio de Janeiro concert last year to celebrate what would have been Jobim’s 80th birthday, “Novas Bossas” unites Nascimento with the Jobim Trio – featuring Tom’s son Paulo on guitar and grandson Daniel on piano, along with Paulo Braga on drums. Though not officially part of the trio, bassist Rodrigo Villa rounds out the unit.

The group makes the only New England stop on its current tour Saturday at New Bedford’s Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. The venue is turning the event into a night of Brazilian revels, with food and drink under a tent before the show and a samba party afterward.

“Novas Bossas” is assuredly a family affair – not only for its Jobim lineage, but also because Paulo Jobim and Nascimento are close friends. As Nascimento explains on the phone from a tour stop in Miami, the two share a longtime tradition of spending part of the summer together at Nascimento’s beach house.

Yet the chance to work together, as a group, on the Tom Jobim songbook, had never come up until last year’s tribute concert provided the spur.

“It was only supposed to be one concert, but everyone enjoyed it so much that they told us we should record together,” Nascimento says, with an assistant helping to translate. “I invited them all to come to my house and listen to music and to just see what happened.”

The relaxed setting and sense of easy kinship made for ideal creative conditions, Nascimento says. “It reminded me of the old times, when musicians would visit each other’s houses, share new material, come up with new arrangements, and talk about movies, about anything.”

A first key decision was how to winnow down the 400-song Jobim catalog and what other pieces to mix in. In a kind of mutual deference, Nascimento wanted to do only Jobim material, but the Jobims wanted to play Nascimento songs, too, and two of these, “Tarde” and “Cais,” appear on the record.

So do pieces by Vinicius de Moraes, Dorival Caymmi, Lo Borges, and even a new composition by Daniel Jobim (“Dias azuis”) which the younger musician wasn’t originally planning to contribute. “I wrote that song and didn’t show it to anyone,” Daniel Jobim says, “but it was in my computer and Milton heard it.”

The other key decision was to record entirely in Nascimento’s home studio. “That way we could play exactly the way Milton plays at home,” Daniel says. “Any time he felt inspired, even in the middle of the night, we could record.” They taped all the tracks live, playing together, and used overdubbing only sparingly in the final production.

One feature of the record that stands out is that Nascimento, at 65, remains in full voice: His famed multi-octave command and extension breathes into each song a different energy, from the yearning falsetto of the lush “Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser” to the melancholy of classic Jobim bossas like “Caminhos cruzados” or “Chega de saudade.”

Daniel Jobim says Nascimento experiments with multiple voicings when working on a song. “He calls the vocals his cousins,” Daniel says. “He’ll say, `I think the cousins are coming,’ or `A van stopped by with eight cousins.”’

Tom Jobim himself recognized Nascimento’s ability to transform a composition, so much so, Nascimento says, that the master asked him to take on the project of recording all his songs.

“My style of singing was different from the other interpreters of Jobim,” Nascimento says. “Other interpreters of bossa nova did only bossa nova. I enjoyed different things, enjoyed the mixing, and it all came very naturally because of this process.”