Baden Powell ‘Live in Berlin’ 2CD + separate DVD (MPS) 4/5

baden-powellGuitarist Baden Powell occupied a special place in the Brazilian psyche and his status in the field of music is akin to that of Segovia in Spain: a maestro of his instrument who is revered by musicians and the greater public alike. This concert, dating from 2000, only months before Powell’s passing, has taken fifteen years to surface because of legal complications. but finally here it is in all it’s glory and available as a multi-LP, 2CD and even DVD edition. It was part of a larger festival tribute to the five hundredth jubilee of the discovery of Brazil and it is therefore fitting that one of Brazil’s greatest musical icons should be asked to participate. The occasion was all the more special with hindsight since it would prove to be Baden Powell’s last ever live performance and fortunately it has been recorded for posterity in both audio and visual formats, and we should be truly grateful for that foresight on the part of the festival producers.
What of the music? Baden Powell performs a solo set (with an uncredited drummer on one piece only) that showcases the sheer virtuosity of the musician and, considering he was in his very last months of life, what is really impressive is that his mastery of the guitar remained undiminished and that he was still fully capable of delivering both lengthy and intricate solos. As for the repertoire, it cherry-picks the great Brazilian songbook and includes composers of the stature of Dorival Caymmi (on two numbers), the great Tom Jobim, but equally the rootsier side of Brazilian folk with Pixinguinha and even Luiz Gonzago and Humberto Texeira masterpiece, ‘Asa Branca’. Of note are the inclusion of several co-written pieces by Powell and his long-time vocal companion, Vinicius de Moraes, the poet of Brazilian music. Baden Powell made a major contribution to Brazilian music in his exploration of the Afro-Brazilian samba tradition(his ‘Os Afro-Sambas’ album from 1966 with de Moraes is a masterpiece) and he talks in some details about the sub-groups of samba that he has performed. One of his most endearing compositions was co-written with Billy Branco and ‘Samba Triste’ speaks volumes of his commitment to the genre. Another classic was co-written with de Moraes and ‘Berimbau’ brings together the martial art meets music form that is capoeira, a uniquely Brazilian art while the duo regularly performed the mournful, ‘Samba da Benção’. No Brazilian songbook would be complete without at least a couple of Jobim numbers and Powell adds his own touches to ‘Chega de Saudade’ and ‘Garota de Ipanema’ (‘The girl from Ipanema’). In a rootsier vein, ‘Samba de minha terra’ by Caymmi is an outstanding example of Brazilian folk music and Powell lovingly cresses the melody. More experimental in nature and showing off Powell’s guitar skills is a variation on the ‘Asa branca’ theme where his technique and magnetism shine through. Powell’s musical interests stretched way beyond even the Brazilian tradition and encompassed baroque European music, most notably Bach. It was this wide-ranging knowledge base that made Powell such a technically gifted musician and ‘Tocata 147’ pays homage to the German composer.

Sound and visual quality are excellent throughout and subtitles available in several languages including English, help the non-lusophone speaker to better understand the lyrics and the frequent banter between numbers from Powell himself. At some point a documentary of Baden Powell’s career will be mandatory. In the meantime, this document helps to give some flavour of what the musician was capable of.

Tim Stenhouse