Albums loaded with guest appearances rarely click on every track. It's remarkable, therefore, that the cellist Yo-Yo Ma has crafted such a rich and stimulating CD of Brazilian music on "Obrigado Brazil," a start-to-finish charmer. Sunday's two hours of music making were as close to perfection as one is likely to find at the Bowl.
Albums loaded with guest appearances rarely click on every track — a cursory listen to even well-received discs such as Santana’s “Supernatural” and Herbie Hancock’s “Gershwin’s World” proves that point. It’s remarkable, therefore, that the cellist Yo-Yo Ma has crafted such a rich and stimulating CD of Brazilian music on “Obrigado Brazil” (Sony Classical), a start-to-finish charmer. Add to that his brilliant star accompanists from the record, who appeared at his sold-out concert to explore the album’s material and then some, even extending the borders to include Argentina and Venezuela. Sunday’s two hours of music making were as close to perfection as one is likely to find at the Bowl: The music alternated between soothing and challenging; the amplification was clear; and the performers executed the works with astounding precision.
Ma, better known for Bach than Bahia, reconvened the majority of “Obrigado’s” guests for the Bowl show, mixing and matching the musicians in configurations running from duets to an all-inclusive octet. To top it off, Sunday’s concert was the rare occasion in which a classical artist made an appearance to promote a current album — in this case, one that actually made it onto the pop charts in its debut week (No. 79 on 15,000 sold).
Twenty-one pieces comprised the program. The Brazilian works ranged, chronologically, from the 1920s (cellist and composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and the mandolinist-composer Pixinguinha) through Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova songs of the 1950s and ’60s. They provided the stately and the sublime appeal of the evening, especially Villa-Lobos’ peaceful “A Lenda do Cabloco,” performed with the guitarists Odair and Sergio Assad, and the buoyant rendition of Pixinguinha’s “Uma Zero” with the Assads, clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and percussionist Cyro Baptista. “Bodas de Prata/Quatro Cantos,” by Egberto Gismonti, who appears on the album but did not make it to the Bowl, was the evening’s heaviest and darkest piece, a stirring duet between Ma and pianist Kathy Scott.
Act ventured out of Brazil to include works by Argentinean nuevo tango master Astor Piazzolla and the Cuban D’Rivera. While still affecting, it made for an intriguing, if nuanced, contrast to the color and shadings the Brazilian composers use. Those works had elements not found in the Brazil Ma is exploring — a tightness in the Piazzolla tunes and an island party tone set by D’Rivera — yet they shared a common bond in rhythm and intricacy.
Brazil has thrived on waves of revolution in music and, with the delightful Rosa Passos singing Jobim’s “So Danco Samba” during the encore, the Sounds of Brazil stopped at the doorstep of the tropicalia movement that began in the late 1960s. Fortunately, that movement’s artists — Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, etc. — are still actively performing. Yet when an artist with the credentials and open-mindedness of Ma embraces this music and retains its purity so well, he demonstrates that the crossover begun 40 years ago by the likes of Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd has hardly reached its conclusion.