Brazil has contributed some of the twentieth century’s greatest musical exponents and one need think of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and the wordsmith Dorival Caymmi family to name but three with Elis Regina another prime candidate. To this list must surely be added a singer-songwriter who possesses a voice like no other, truly angelic in tone. His name is Milton Nascimento and, as is the case befitting a national musical treasure whom Brazilians can immediately identify with, he is usually known simply by his first name just as Jobim is affectionately referred to as Tom.
Milton’s opus to greatness was ‘Clube de Esquina’ that originally came out in 1972 in the then unusual (for Brazilians that is, used to single LPs often under the thirty minute mark) as a double vinyl offering, crammed with creative songs and spanning myriad musical styles. These included Cuban and more generally Latin American folk, while the harmonies of the Beatles, American jazz and soul were skilfully incorporated also. All come together in a seemingly effortless interweaving of genres on this fabulous recording. What is sometimes forgotten is that this was very much a collaborative exercise with songwriter Lô Borges both a critical factor and contributor to the album’s success and his own work is deserving of re-issue in the UK. This was post bossa-nova and just by a whisker post-Tropicalia period too and an acoustic recording that combined elements of Brazilian folk, jazz and even choral influences was by no means an immediate success with the Brazilian press, far from it. Furthermore, its release coincided with a period of military junta rule from 1964 through 1985 when personal freedom of expression was brutally suppressed and Brazilian singers would play a pivotal role in countering these restrictions, in some cases having to seek exile as was the case with Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, or as in the case of Chico Buarque, using clever allegorical references in their work to criticise the regime in subtle ways.
Enter Milton and his ‘Street Corner’ band (the title translated into English) with what would become an unofficial anthem in ‘Nada serà como antés’. This was a direct message to the regime that things could no longer be like they were before and was later covered by Elis Regina. It has since become part of the Brazilian songbook and rightly so for its importance goes beyond purely musical genius. Milton’s passionate interest in the roots of Brazilian music has never been better expressed than on ”Cravo e canela’ (Cinnamon and Clove’, a title which novelist Jorge Amado later used for one of his superlative novels of a mystical Bahian woman who casts her spell over men) and this has become a firm favourite among Brazilian music aficionados in this country. George Duke reprised it on his ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ album with Milton contributing wordless vocals. The original is still the definitive version and is an uplifting emotionally charged experience. As a whole, the music shifts in both tempo and mood and while the stereotype of Brazilian music is of happy samba music, in reality the nuances are far more subtle and on songs such as ‘Cais’ and especially ‘Ao que vai nascer’ it is the melancholic sobriety of the music that truly comes across. Psychedelic hues permeate ‘Pelo amor de Deus’ with the title taking on quasi-religious hues. However, if one song were to typify the joyous nature of the recording overall, then it must surely be ‘Tudo que vocé podia ser’ (‘Everything that you could be’) and never has Milton’s purity of tone allied so beautifully with the acoustic instrumentation to reach a thrilling end that beggars belief.
Milton Nascimento would go on to international stardom on the back of this incredible album and two years later contribute to the stunning ‘Native Dancer’ under the leadership of another musical wizard, Wayne Shorter. RPM/Cherry records have done a fine job of squeezing the twenty-one songs onto one CD which makes for marvellous value for money with an illuminating article including an interview with Milton. The only pity is that the original lyrics have not been included for listeners to sing along to.