“Charleston is so fantastic,” announced wild-eyed percussionist Cyro Baptista during the early portion of Paula Robison/Romero Lumbambo/Cyro Baptista Trio’s late-evening performance at the Cistern on Fri. June 6. “The crazy weather is like Brazil’s!”
Indeed, the crazy weather was very warm and humid. It was one of several amusing moments during an altogether light and festive concert.
A larger-than-anticipated crowd filled the courtyard of the scenic venue for the final installment of Spoleto’s Wachovia Jazz Series. Despite the formal setting, the trio kept things casual and loose with a varied set of Brazilian standards and original pieces.
Wachovia Jazz producer/director Michael Grofsorean thanked the series’ sponsor in his gracious introduction, and pointed out that while flautist Paula Robison — a graduate of the Julliard School, a former soloist with the New York Philharmonic, and a teacher at the New England Conservatory — may have been the focal point of many preview stories, she wanted to emphasize the fact that she was part of a trio with two great Brazilian-born musicians.
Robison, clad in a bright gold outfit, was visibly pleased and excited to be on stage in this setting with her bandmates. Their opening number was the peppery “Noites Cariocas (Rio Nights)” — a popular standard with a familiar melody, featured as the opening track on the trio’s recent album, Rio Days, Rio Nights. Robison’s enthusiasm looked genuine and her tone was vibrant and strong.
With the support of two such versatile musicians as acoustic guitarist Romero Lumbambo and Baptista, it’s probably easy for any musician to loosen up. Unfortunately, her brilliant technique and deep classical background probably hindered the flute master from loosening up entirely. Robsion sounded just a bit stiff at times; rolling with Baptista’s imaginative and syncopated rhythms and Lumbambo’s smooth chord changes, but not quite locking in with the accompaniment. In fact, the entire trio seemed a bit off the beat at times during the early tunes of the program. Perhaps that’s actually part of the loose vibe of this music after all. It didn’t distract from the energy of the performance, luckily.
The set included respectful renditions and reworkings of popular tunes by Pixinguinha, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and other Brazilian master composers. Lumbambo — a native of Rio de Janeiro who’s best known for his work with jazz combo Trio da Paz — sat at stage left and propelled the show with his impressively fluid and harmonic guitar work.
Baptista — also a native of Rio de Janeiro who’s gained popular appeal through his recent work leading the Beat The Donkey ensemble — enhanced the sound with a cool variety of percussion toys (either home-made or collected from Brazil, Middle East, Indonesia, Africa, and the U.S.) His goodie bag included a rack of sleigh bells, a very loud cuica, cymbals, timbales, wind chimes, and what looked like an oversized djembe.
Baptista’s animated performance was tops, but his finger work on the pandeiro (a Brazilian equivalent to the tambourine) during a few up-tempo numbers was actually a little sloppy.
One of the most amusing moments of the show came with another aside from Baptista as he told the story of Iris (pronounced “ee-deesh”) Lettieri — the announcer at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport with a voice so sultry, “she makes us lose our planes!” He continued, “Iris, oh, Iris! Such a beautiful voice … a Brazilian female sensual voice …I don’t have the voice, or even the face! But thank you very much for to come see us here!” The aside led into a version of “Aeroporto Do Galeão”,” originally composed by Altimiro Carrilho.
Ultimately, the Robison/Lumbambo/Baptista Trio’s gig at the Cistern was most about simple joy and lovely music. It was a highly rhythmic mix of Brazilian and American flavors — and that’s nothing to nitpick. Música fantástica e divertimento excelente.
Paula Robison with Romero Lumbambo and Cyro Baptista • Spoleto Festival USA • Wachovia Jazz Series • 1 hour 15 min.• Fri. June 6, 9 p.m. • The Cistern, 66 George St. • (843) 722-2764