|Milton Nascimento. Photo credit Livepict.com.|
(Ronnie Scott's, January 25th 2013. Review by Matthew Wright)
With a fifty-year performing career as singer, guitarist and pianist spanning jazz, Latin and a varied mixture of pop and funk behind him, Milton Nascimento has now, finally made his debut at Ronnie Scott’s. His versatility, generically and instrumentally, has been one of the hallmarks of his career, but it was his performance on Wayne’s Shorter’s 1974 album Native Dancer that brought Nascimento to the jazz audience's attention in the US and Europe. This appearance at Ronnie Scott’s was, then, long overdue.
Nascimento announced his entrance on stage with a sustained falsetto note. Its ethereal, whistling tone, part flute and part ghoul, was devastatingly effective as a curtain-raiser.
The extraordinary lyricism of that upper register, along with the energy and originality of his funky contributions to Native Dancer are still strikingly present. There’s a bit less falsetto now, nearly forty years after his Shorter debut, than there used to be - some of the elasticity has gone - but his voice is still a marvellous instrument.
A sometimes crackly, seasoned quality is just another shade in Nascimento’s vocal palette - somewhere between Tom Waits and Edith Piaf, perhaps - and he sings lyrically and with stunning emotional power throughout. Occasionally, he crescendoed from stage whisper to roar with such suddenness, it made the hair stand up on the back of the neck, as if a crocodile had suddenly burst from a tranquil stream and snapped in front of one’s nose.
His repertoire took in a selection of hits, perfect for both newcomers and dedicated fans. The substantial Brazilian contingent led the way for the more wary English crowd, by clapping and singing along. Before long, everyone had joined in.
Nascimento has a magnetic stage presence, shuffling about like a shaman between piano - on which he plays a brilliant burst of Nymanesque minimalism - and centre stage. When other band members played solos, he would turn his back on the audience rather flirtatiously, for minutes at a time, in encouragement. He played guitar on a couple of songs, too, but he most enjoys being bandleader, and co-ordinates proceedings with immense theatrical skill.
His looks belie his age: with a neat bob-curtain of dreadlocks and a black hat - a more restrained version of Gregory Porter’s peaked bonnet - and achingly trendy street gear, there's no way he looks seventy.
Niascimento has a highly skilled band - two guitars, sax (Widor Santiag), drums and keyboard (Kiko Continentino plays piano, or synth, or both together) - with every member of it equally capable of launching off into a technically dazzling solo; they all sing too. And best of all, perhaps, is their obvious cohesiveness, their communication of pure enjoyment. These musicians know each other’s playing intimately, balance each other’s input masterfully.
Nascimento is hugely gifted as performer, writer, musician and bandleader. This was a thrilling evening.