“I am so happy to play this music for you tonight,” announced clarinetist and saxophonist Nailor “Proveta” Azevedo to a large crowd of jazz fans at the Cistern on Sunday. “We have a lot of passion for this music, and I hope you are happy to enjoy, too.”
A revered Brazilian musician best known among international music fans as a co-leader of Banda Mantiqueira, Azevedo goes by his nickname “Proveta,” which loosely means “test tube” in Portuguese. A remarkable talent, he is undoubtedly one of the most highly respected musicians of his generation in Brazil.
Proveta and his backing quartet delivered a colorful late-evening set. The lineup included Alessandro Penezzi on the seven-string acoustic guitar, Danilo de Brito on mandolin, Roberta Valente on pandeiro (a hand-held percussion instrument resembling a large tambourine), and André Mehamari on piano.
Proveta engaged each of his bandmates in exciting harmonic and rhythmic exchanges all night. Each player’s passion, skills, and musical dexterity were on full display throughout the concert, and the chemistry was terrific.
The set mostly featured traditional and modernized choros and baiãos — some light and playful, and others complex and assertive. Popular in its earliest forms during the 1920s and ’30s, choro developed as a sort of jazz-like music style based on improvisation. Hints of African, Mediterranean, and European folk music pepper the phrases and rhythms. As a veteran educator and musical collaborator in the São Paulo area, Proveta knows the styles well.
During the almost meditative set, Proveta’s sweet soprano sax tone sometimes resembled the warm quality of a flute or clarinet. His clarinet work was even more mellow and tasteful. Halfway through the show, he exited the stage for the first of several duets between mandolin and guitar; the careful interplay between Penezzi and de Brito sounded like a Baroque era suite for strings. The band leader returned for his own beautiful duets with Penezzi and Mehamari.
They closed with several snazzy standards by Brazilian composers Pixinguinha, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Duda Anizio. The final number — one of the most upbeat and musically complicated of the night, with endless 16th notes in unison — earned a rousing round of applause and a standing ovation. Making such demanding music sound so free, fun, and fluid, they totally deserved it.