Milton Nascimento was one of the first Brazilian artists I really got into. When the Festival announced he was coming to this year's edition - his first appearance since 1994 - I immediately rushed to get a ticket. Walking into Théâtre Maisonneuve, I heard more Portuguese than English or French and it seemed like every Brazilian in Montreal was in the house.
Coming out in front of his quartet of guitar, piano, bass and drums, Nascimento looked better than he has in the past few years. He opened with "...E a gente sonhando," the title track of his new album. As far as I can tell it was the only song from the album that he played in the 90 minute set. A few songs in, it was clear that there were some rough edges around upper end of full voice, for which he apologized a few times throughout the show. However, his falsetto still there in all its haunting glory. For every ragged moment there were three moments of heartstopping beauty. There's a character to Milton's voice that I can't really describe, that it still possesses: it cuts to the core of both the song and the listener. Many times throughout the concert, I had never-ending goosebumps. When his full voice was warmed up, the power of his 1970s heyday was still there. He gave ample space to his band members, especially pianist Kiko Continentino, who offered consistently surprising and intriguing solos in the vein of Herbie Hancock and Wagner Tiso.
Unafraid of revisiting his repertoire, Milton played many of his classic tunes, re-arranged either subtly (like giving "Nos bailes da vida" a reggae feel) or drastically (like the half-time polytonal middle break of "Cravo e canela"). For me, the highlight was a medley of "Ponta de areia" and "Saidas e bandeiras." Some of the rearrangements, and the solos from Continentino, guitarist Wilson Lopes, and drummer Lincoln Cheib, were fascinating and exuded joy. Being surrounded by Brazilians gave me new insight into Milton's repertoire; among my colleagues and friends, tunes like `Cravo e canela," "Ponta de areia" (revitalized by Esperanza Spalding) and "Tudo que você podia ser" (which he didn't play, unfortunately) are the big ones, but the crowd roared for "Coração de estudante" and for the encore of "Maria, Maria." An utterly beautiful concert and a privileged encounter with a master. I can cross this one off the bucket list.