An evening of Joyce – @ Ronnie Scott’s 13th Jan 2015

In January I went to see Brazilian legend Joyce Moreno play with her band in Ronnie Scott’s in London. The gig was amazing, and I wrote a review of it, which is up on the B.Nova website. Joyce even posted a link to it on her facebook page.

One of our Bnova Embassadors, Dave Holmes, caught a performance of Joyce Moreno on Tuesday night.. here’s what happened

I arrived into the heart of London, and headed out into the chill of the evening, just as it started to rain upon me. It was more ‘Chuva de Janeiro’ (January rain) than ‘Rio de Janeiro’, but some of Brazil’s finest artists were in town to address the balance and clear the skies with the warm and radiant rhythms of the Bossa Nova and Samba.

I made the relatively short walk to Tottenham Court Road and weaved myself down into Frith Street to the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club, where I was to witness the second night of two London performances by Joyce Moreno and the world class musicians that she has brought over to accompany her on this European Tour.

It was my first time at Ronnie’s, a place of legend that I’d always wanted to visit. Just a metre or so from my table, a stageside door swung open and I glimpsed a backstage area from which emerged the quartet; Helio Alves – the composer and in-demand virtuoso bossa and jazz pianist; Rodolfo Stroeter – a founding member and bassist of the band Pau Brasil, who has worked with greats such as Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque and who directed the São Paulo Symphonic Jazz Orchestra in the 90s;  Tutty Moreno, Joyce’s husband and drummer – who has performed his fluid samba-jazz style with his wife Joyce  – at least since recording the album ‘Magica’ (1981) and who has also played alongside countless artists such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento; and then of course, the lady herself, Joyce Moreno. All four took to the stage, and so the magic began.

They started things off with a funky bossa number, A Banda Maluca. Just like the lyrics, the samba was flowing in their veins and in their blood (samba na veia e no sangue).  This energetic entrance was followed by her upbeat take on the Forró tune Meu Pião (the spinning top), which features on her new album Raiz (meaning ‘Roots’ in Portuguese). Released on the UK label Far Out Recordings, it’s an album of covers, the originals of which she was listening to at around the time she became a professional musician.

The first track of the evening by Bossa Nova master Tom Jobim followed; a smooth and soulful version of Desafinado with references to ‘Take the A Train’ thrown in for good measure. A tribute was also made to this master’s master when they played an Ary Barroso piece.

Bossa pioneer Roberto Menescal was also praised for giving the lucky break which began her career, now in its 50th year and celebrated through the recording of the new album, on which he also guests. No better way to honour Menescal than a beautiful rendition of his composition ‘O Barquinho’ (The little boat), which was followed up by a track I didn’t recognise, and was perhaps just a good old bossa-style blues jam, such was the spirit of the performance. Roots music indeed.

The club itself has a dimly lit, ‘speakeasy’ feel to it and for the few moments when my eyes were not transfixed upon the fretboards, a piano keyboard or drum sticks, I took in the beauty of a full house of music lovers wining and dining within a sea of glowing table lamps. The whole audience obediently sitting silently, attentive of every note and pause. Some of us were so obviously urging to break free into dance; we made best of the situation with our swaying heads, bouncing knees and finger tapping.

The supporting musicians, all stars in their own right, were just incredible. The bass guitar, surprisingly, and perhaps refreshingly, void of those 5th or 6th strings common place amongst Brazilian players these days, was put to full use by Stroeter, incredibly delicately, without over crowding the musical space. A very impressive player, his continuous smile showed his total enjoyment of being right there in the moment. At one point, playfully making cuíca rhythms from string-noise in response to Tutty’s clave on the snare, the two jovially playing off each other’s sound whilst simultaneously continuing to play their parts precisely. And those drums; a humble master of the kit casually delivering a perfect bedrock on which the notes could sit.

There was some really fine piano playing too from Alves, displaying both the subtle control of harmony and dynamics, and expressive, impressive piano solos, which received some well deserved applause.

As you would expect, Joyce’s guitar playing is a refined version of staple Bossa Nova technique – for she has played her part in shaping and creating the genre. Her own signature tunes showed an even deeper mastery of the instrument with intricate arrangements. Her vocals are versatile, powerful and soothing. From memory she played a great selection of tunes, which included Puro Ouro, from her 2011 album Rio, a track dedicated to Rio’s new generation of musicians, Essa Mulher (‘This woman’) from her 1980 album Feminina, Penalty  from the soundtrack of the Spanish film of the same name and, a favourite of mine, Desde que o Samba É Samba by Caetano Veloso.

A highlight of the evening was a performance of a recently discovered Afro-samba piece, called Canto de Yansan, written by Baden Powell, the guitar master who co-wrote the wonderful Afro-sambas, such as Canto de Ossanha, with Vinícius de Moraes in the 1960s. It was explained that after Baden’s passing, one of his sons, Philippe Baden Powell – a fine musician himself, had found it amongst his father’s paperwork and offered it up to be played and heard.

She went on to say how it was a song for the Goddess Yansan of one of the Afro-Brazilian religions and with a respectful nod to seemily acknowledge the recent events in Paris, stated how important it is, especially these days, to accept all religions. Brazil
indeed has many religions and there seemed to be a real spiritual appreciation from Joyce to some divinity up high at the end of this tune.

Another consistant source of spirituality at the heart of Brazilian music is nature; the golden sands, distant islands, little boats, a sky reflecting in the ocean. Brazil has a vast coastline full of this imagery and the next track – a Johnny Alf number Céu e Mar (Sky and sea), takes inspiration from those idyllic scenes.

And so, eventually, and far too soon, the show came to a climactic end with the title track ‘Feminina’ from her 1980 album, a tune which was her first hit in Brazil, and, after a rapturous applause, they made the single step back under the spotlights for just one more tune. The audience all laughed with her admission of the globally accepted protocol; “We are hypocrites. We pretend to finish and go off stage, but of course we come back,…..we always do”.

And then to the encore. I knew, moments after she struck the ‘A13′ chord, what delights were coming, even if the audience didn’t – The Jobim classic ‘O Morro Não Tem Vez’. Starting off slow and building up to a frenzy, with Tutty Moreno really going for it on drums (but still looking humble, as well as effortless), it was a great track to finalise the night.

Finally,  just as Joyce was leaving with Tutty, before they dived into a taxi, I ran over to stop her at the door to thank her and shake her hand.  I enjoyed the evening imensely, and like the pião, the melodies and memories of the experience are still spinning around in my mind….

Dave H.

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