Heavenly Duo: Brito and his bandolim - Charleston City Paper

By Produção

By Jon Santiago

On a perfect spring night in the Holy City, there are few outdoor music venues to rival the Cistern Yard. Sunday night was one of those perfect nights.

Danilo Brito took the stage with his band Carlos Moura (7-string guitar), Wesley Vasconcellos (guitar), Lucas Arantes (cavaquinho) and Roberto Figueroa (choro pandeiro) and with their music they brought hints of summer pleasures just around the corner.

Brito is, at 29, now rounding out his third decade of playing and performing with his bandolim (mandolin). His young bandmates are something of an exception to his frequent musical collaborators. In his native Brazil, Brito plays with a lot of old guys, musicians who, like Brito, keep alive the tradition of choro music. Brito is one of the few youngsters who can keep up with them.

To say that Brito is a musical prodigy is almost to diminish his personal contributions to the music he loves. Sunday night he gave his audience a chance to sample his equally prodigious talents as a composer. Many of the pieces he and his band played for this concert feature on his fresh from the press latest release, the eponymous Danilo Brito. In fact, Sunday night serendipitously became a CD releases party of sorts.

And it was a party.

While it's almost impossible to pluck highlights out of a set list that comprised just about nothing but highlights, to give you an idea of what these gentlemen brought to the party, there was the stunning mid setoriginal composition "Sussuarana" from Brito's second CD Perambulando” released in 2005 when Brito was just 20 years old.

"Sussuarana" is a blistering, virtuoso piece. More importantly, with its layers of rhythm, dynamic changes, and inventive melodic lines, it might be an artist's statement: "How I will honor the traditions I've learned at my father's (and grandfather's) knee and move that into a new century."

The traditional tunes in the set, composed by masters of the form like Ernesto Nazareth, Pixinguinha, Jacob do Bandolim, emerged fresh and reinvigorated. Not only does Brito demonstrate his technical prowess on the music he plays, he knows and understands the soul of these works. His interpretations reveal both his knowledge and his superb restraint. In fact, (through his onstage translator), he made a point of speaking about this restraint and its polar opposite among bandolim players: the show off players, the Portuguese name for them translated as "Big Reds." Brito explained he'd composed a kind of throw down challenge to this boastful crowd, called "Catch the Big Red." He was about to launch into it, when he returned to his speaking mic and with a rueful smirk admitted, "I almost regret I chose this for tonight's repertoire."

If to that point in the evening there remained a doubt in anyone's mind about Brito's skill, "Catch the Big Red" put paid to that. He caught a lot of Big Reds in this tune's net. Stunning.

The evening's repertoire gave us a brief tour of Brazilian music. Along with the choros with which Brito is most closely associated, he also gave us sambas, lively frevos, and Brazilian waltzes. As examples of the waltz, lilting original "Valsa Vermelha" joined his own absolutely haunting arrangement of Luperce Miranda's "Quando me Lembro" which Brito played as a solo. Melodies like these particularly showcase Brito's splendid technique, his nuanced phrasing, his restraint. They are tantalizing, achingly beautiful. Another original composition in this vein was the lovely "Maria Silvia." We were particularly taken with Brito's rendering of Jacob do Bandolim's "Mágoas" a masterwork by a bandolim master and, in Brito's hands, the musical equivalent of an autumn afternoon's dappled sunshine.

The quintet closed out their show with a perennial favorite, a song as Brito put it "known around the world" — quintessential Brazilian music: Zequinha de Abreu's "Tico-Tico no Fubá." A superlative closer to a superlative show.

After-show comments seemed unanimous — newborn fans of Brito's music wished there had been a second show scheduled so they could share their delightful discovery with friends. No higher praise than that.

There might be some confusion on one point. Was this a jazz show? With this tour and these musicians, Brito does appear to be highlighting the traditional side of his repertoire. However, one need only look into his collaborations with other musicians in his native Brazil. There you'll find the likes of accordionist Toninho Ferragutti (a 2011 Jazz Series artist) and Brazilian jazzmen Zimbo Trio to name only two examples. Sunday's concert could not begin to encompass the range of Brito's musical contributions and interests. Until he returns to Charleston, (which we hope will be soon), there's plenty more to discover and enjoy.