A succesfull start to the tour!

I have a few hours to kill on the flight to Rio so I’ll use them to tell you about the final two nights in Recife. Friday night (21st) featured Jazz 6, lead by Luis Fernando Versissimo, and Gunhild Carling with the Jazz Festival Brasil Band. Saturday was Kristine Mills, from Houston, USA and the amazing Gangbé Brass Band, from Benin, Africa.

I have to say that as a huge fan of Verissimo’s writing I was throughly looking forward to meeting him and hopefully hearing some of his wit first hand. As the past few days have been chaotic to say the least, I have been unable to sit down with anyone really. Anyway, the day of the show I made every effort to stay at the back of the theatre to watch the show, sure that he would pour forth stories and tales in his inimitable style. He said about 20 words during the entire show, 10 of them repeated! He introduced the band at the beginning and re-introduced them at the end – and that was it. Oh well.

Gunhild Carling’s set was, as usual, a high energy demonstration of old fashioned showmanship. She knows how to control the stage and hold the audience with a skill that is not common these days. I have to say that out of everything she does, all of it well, her singing is my favorite. She has a beautiful voice – which really came out when she sat down at a piano in Mingus (a restaurant which I will talk more of in a bit) and sang ‘Shanghai Lil’. On a personal note, I was very pleased with the Jazz Festival Brasil Band. I put this band together with the intention of having a ‘house’ band that would be available to accompany visiting soloists. The members, Mark Lambert, Jimmy Duchowny and Eneias Xavier, are some of the best jazz musicians in Brazil. I chose them not only because of this fact but also because they are very professional and, like all great musicians, extremely versatile. Even so, Gunhild’s style of jazz is not common here so, to be honest, although I knew they would do a great job I didn’t know how great. They really excelled themselves! They swung like crazy and nailed all of the arrangements – none of which were written down!

Last night, Saturday, started off with Kristine Mills, accompanied by the Jazz Festival Brasil Band who were in their element. Kristine has a huge, ballsy, bluesy voice. She used the full range of it to great effect, from a sultry version of Jobim’s bossa nova ‘Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars’ (Corcovado), with both English and Portuguese lyrics, to a full-on powerhouse version of Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.. The audience were enthralled from the beginning and she kept them that way for the entire set.

Her set was followed by the Gangbé Brass Band, which closed the festival in Recife. Their show was nothing short of spectacular. The horn section is tight, the rhythms are infectious and the energy unwavering. They danced, sang and played their hearts out for over an hour. Their penultimate number was a traditional Brazilian samba, ‘Tristeza’, which had the entire audience singing along. The encore found them walking off the stage into the auditorium and playing amongst the crowd before returning to the stage for a farewell chorus. Not a single person was still sitting at the end – the entire audience was up and dancing along with the band. From a musical point of view, it was very interesting to see the rhythmic links between the traditional African songs they were playing and Brazilian music.If you listened you could hear samba and baião rhythms quite clearly. It is the first time for the band in Brasil and I’m glad to say the are proving a huge success.

Now, to some production notes. Saturday was by far the worst day in terms of incapability and general stupidity. I had asked for everyone to be at the theatre for 2 pm so that we could finish the soundcheck earlier.I knew that the logistics for the Gangbé band and Kristine would be trickier and I also wanted Kristine to be able to rest her voice before the gig. No-one told us, however, that the theatre staff only came in at 4 pm on a Saturday. Good old union rules or laziness? Each problem was small but each one set us back 10 – 20 minutes, resulting in a 4.30 pm soundcheck! I almost lost my voice with the amount of shouting I was doing. It’s akin to working with lobotomized monkeys! I understand the differences in culture, even more apparent in the north of Brazil where clocks apparently run slower than anywhere else!, but I am a perfectionist and it’s not something I am prepared to compromise on. I want the audience leave with memories of a superb show with first class music – which means first class sound and lighting. Having always been on stage, trying to judge the audience reaction to what we’re doing, it is very interesting to stay at the back of the theatre and try to judge the same. I would also like to say that it was a great feeling seeing the audience really enjoying the combination of artists that Leo and I had put together

A brief word on Mingus. It was one of the sponsoring restaurants, and we ate there almost every evening. The food is superb as is the decor – the walls are covered with giant pictures of great jazz musicians, hence the name. The owner, Nikóla, is great guy and a superb host. More than once he waived the alcohol bill because he had enjoyed the shows so much – not an easy thing when musicians are involved!

So, off to Rio where I hope, oh God do I hope, that the local production crew are at least capable of reading the stage riders that were sent weeks ago………