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Noites Cariocas” from the album Rio Days and Rio Nights
Audio File

What is it? An international clash of classical, Latin, and jazz styles — done up with great style and finesse. Consider it a “chamber jazz” gig with a Brazilian accent. This international blend of world-class players and ideas epitomizes Wachovia Jazz Series’ wide-open approach to jazz. It should be a unique experience.

Why see it? Tennessee-born flutist and composer Paula Robison — a graduate of the Juilliard School and a former soloist with the New York Philharmonic who is as a teacher at the New England Conservatory — is well-known to Spoleto audiences for her work with the Chamber Music Series. Fans and critics call her “the first lady of the flute.” For this special performance, she’s collaborating in an unusual combo with two versatile Brazilian musicians — guitarist Romero Lumbambo and percussionist Cyro Baptista. Lumbambo is best known for his work with jazz combo Trio da Paz. Baptista is a musical wild man who recently gained notoriety with the over-the-top fusion ensemble Beat the Donkey.

Who should go? This mix of styles and instruments should both challenge and please open-minded fans of South American folk music, Brazilian jazz and pop, and chamber music.

SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $40, $25 • 1 hour 15 min. • June 6 at 9 p.m. • The Cistern, 66 George St. • (843) 579-3100

Joyful Rhythms

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Paula Robison and company: dishing out a new mix of chôro, samba,
and American folk and jazz flavors

“Folk music was a really big part of my life when I was growing up,” says Tennessee-born flautist and composer Paula Robison.

“Just like the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, I was trained in the classical tradition, but all I ever wanted to do was to run away and play in a band,” she laughs. “My mother was in theater and my father was a writer, so that is a big part of it, too. We used to dance and sing in my family. I didn’t get to do this as a teenager, so I think it’s really wonderful to do this as an adult. I think the Lord sent a samba angel to me to say, ‘It’s okay — you can run away with the band if you want!’ [laughs]. To actually do this with such great musicians is such a joy.”

A graduate of the Juilliard School and a former soloist with the New York Philharmonic, Robison is currently active as a teacher at the New England Conservatory. Well-known to Spoleto Festival USA audiences for her work with the Chamber Music Series, the flautist returns with an entirely new musical program and vibe — this time she’ll perform with an unusual combo featuring two versatile and highly regarded Brazilian musicians, acoustic guitarist Romero Lumbambo, and percussionist Cyro Baptista.

Lumbambo, a native of Rio de Janeiro, is currently based in New York City. Best known for his work with jazz combo Trio da Paz, he’s collaborated with many renowned artists, including Herbie Mann, Harry Belafonte, Larry Coryell, and others.

Baptista, also a native of Rio de Janeiro, gained notoriety with the over-the-top fusion ensemble Beat the Donkey. (The band name comes from the Brazilian expression “Pau na mula!” which translates loosely into “Let’s go, let’s do it!”) The band delivers a clash of jazz-fusion, prog-rock, funk, and Afro-Latin rhythms. Baptista’s resumé includes work with John Zorn, Trey Anastasio, Marc Ribot, Paul Simon, and Sting, among many others.

In 1993 Robison started programming a little bit of Brazilian music into her classical concerts, and the trio started to take shape.

“Something wondrous started to happen,” she says. “Romero is a jazz/bossa nova artist. He’s in that world, and he’s superlative. Cyro’s more of a world musician; he’s Brazilian, but he makes his own instruments and plays anything. He calls himself a cannibal; he’ll eat up any music. And here I am coming from a classical world, crossing over toward them as they cross toward me.”

Robison describes the trio’s latest musical work as “mistura nova” — a stew of traditional and modern styles, techniques, and ideas. During performances (and on much of their latest disc, Rio Days and Rio Nights), they shift from original pieces to renditions of pieces by Brazilian chôro (pronounced “shoh-roh”) and samba legends to Bach and Ravel.

“It was important for me to learn that Brazilian music was not necessarily Latin music,” says Robison. “There are many musical languages in Brazil. For our trio, we like the term mistura nova (“new mix”), because it’s a new mix of Brazilian music and my heritage in America. I was born in the South, grew up in California, and now live in the Northeast … I’ve heard a lot of different music from my own people, plus the roots to whatever my own European heritage is.”

This mix of styles and instruments should both challenge and please open-minded fans of South American folk music, Brazilian jazz and pop, and chamber music. The international blend of world-class players and ideas epitomizes Wachovia Jazz Series’ wide-open approach to jazz.

“It’s much more than one of us saying, ‘Oh, now I’ll try to do something that I don’t know how to do’ — it’s much more than that,” Robison says. “It’s been a dedication to learning the style, listening to a lot of music, and becoming a really young player in a lot of ways.”

Through her travels in Brazil, Robison was greatly influenced by African, Mediterranean, and indigenous music.

Versatile flute legend Altamiro Carrilho, a master of the chôro style, also made a major impact on her development. Chôro is a complex popular musical form that developed between the 1920s and ’50s and spawned the more modern styles of samba. Mostly instrumental, it’s based on improvisation, New Orleans-style jazz and blues, and Brazilian folk music.

Another big influence on Robison and the trio was the music of the late Rio de Janeiro composer and woodwind player Pixinguinha (a.k.a. Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Filho).

“With classical music, you get inside the head of the composer and hope that you’ll be a good interpreter,” says Robison. “Without the performing musicians, classical music is just a bunch of notes scribbled on a page. We’re really interpretive artists. So this was a big step for me, because it means that there’s improvisation involved, and my own take on what a composer may have written down. It takes it a step further. It’s all about music, as Romero says.”