Antonio Carlos Jobim, the late pioneering bossa nova composer, once defined Milton Nascimento as a “true songbird.” A more apt description would be hard to find: Nascimento built his early career — parallel to the defining days of the tropicalia genre — on his ability to vocally soar and swoop, his accompaniment sparse and colorful, a sunrise in song. When those elements are in play in his first bossa nova project, “Novas Bossas,” and in the short tour to support the Blue Note release, his partnership with Jobim’s sons is a delight.
But Nascimento, a fine romantic crooner for nearly four decades, does not always fit comfortably within the bossa beat. It’s stationary music that values swaying — the sand to Nascimento’s sky — and the singer is not always keen on digging in his heels.
Wednesday’s concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall, which included a dozen of the 14 tracks on the album plus classics from the elder Jobim and Nascimento, found its footing on slower numbers, songs in which Nascimento employed a quiver of vulnerability in his vocal and in which the accompaniment emphasized that vocal. Newton Mendoca’s “Caminhos Cruzados” and two songs co-written by Jobim, “Inutil Paisagem” and “Eu sei que vou te amar,” were especially dramatic and rich, patiently delivered and soothing.
Possibly the result of amplification, the drums of Paulo Braga were overly prominent in the mix, confusing the listening experience at times. Bossa nova, for the most part, relies on the vocalist, piano and acoustic guitar to caress the melodies, with percussion performing an accent role. Whenever Braga worked the cymbals heavily or the entire drum kit furiously, the beat overwhelmed the melodies. His efforts had their place elsewhere, particularly the upbeat numbers that ventured into samba, in which the relationship between singer and percussion is more natural and effective.
One notable exception was on “Cais,” a gorgeous Nascimento ballad from the early ’70s that the Jobim Trio — expanded to a quartet for the tour — allowed to unfold with rolling tom-toms and gentle piano chords underneath Nascimento’s soaring vocals.