Airto Moreira & Banda Sinfônica Do Estado De São Paulo
In São Paulo

By Martin Longley

The Teatro Cultura Artística is quite an old theatre, and relatively small for such orchestral purposes. The Banda Sinfônica Do Estado De São Paulo perform the first half of the concert themselves, revealing an approach that's attuned to modernist compositions of a melodic nature. It's clear to see how they have an affinity with jazz and folkloric musics. After a brief interval, the Airto segment of the evening arrives, beginning with the man himself stepping up to the front-of-stage microphone, bearing only his pandeiro drum. This is similar to a tambourine, but the Brasilian version has a tune-able skin and a set of less splashy mini-cymbals, if ya know what I mean.

Airto's favourite party piece is to magnify its sound, turning such a simple instrument into an an equivalent of an entire band. He sings through its skin, slaps big booming bass whooms, at the same time as shaking out silvery patterns with its metal jingles. Ostensibly limited, Airto uses these tiny tools to build up a multi-layered pseudo-combo sound. The Sinfônica sit patiently, waiting to join him. Later on, Airto spouts an extended anecdote, doing his stand-up comedian spot. Judging by the audience's sustained laughter, he was a success in this role, though to a non-Portuguese speaker this was another longueur in what ended up being a ninety minute second half. Anyway, this was about the show's only serious flaw, given the power of the music that was to follow.

Airto was soon joined by his jazz cohorts, forming a line in front of the Sinfônica. A slight problem here was that these players often dominated in the volume stakes, smothering the orchestral input. To a certain extent, the arrangements called for support and embellishment anyway, rather than equal dialogue. Far be it from this writer to question Airto's rhythmic accuracy, but there did seem to be a few problems with the relationship between him and his 'conventional' drummer Cleber Almeida, and their own combined interface with the Sinfônica. A sense of uncomfortable interlocking sometimes arose. This may well have been down to subjective onstage monitoring, lack of rehearsal or just a simple lack of jazzin' grooviness on the part of the 'classical' types.

The programme ran through pieces by Milton Nascimento, Hermeto Pascoal and Moreira himself, all arranged into a complex sequence of stuttering riffs and themes. This was convoluted jazz, but also filled with earthy passion. Airto sat for most of the time behind a relatively conventional drumkit. On previous occasions, I've always seen him surrounded by a fuller array of exotic percussion objects. His style always avoids the obvious emphases, searching out surprising accents and setting the beat flying on a wave of suspended abstraction.

The young Felipe Senna is an exciting new discovery in the realms of piano soloing, whilst saxophonist Roberto Sion and electric bassist Sidiel Vieira also impressed. Conductor Abel Rocha seemed less crucial during the Airto half of the evening, but his role was necessarily secondary, dependent upon signals from the drummer himself, as each improvisatory flush attained its climax.
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