"A Night in Brazil" at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night took a long time to get up to speed. But it was worth the wait, since the performances by Brazilian singer-songwriters Ivan Lins and Gilberto Gil were marvelous--easily among the best high points of this year's pop and jazz Bowl season.
Lins didn't arrive on stage until nearly an hour after the concert opened with a set by guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves' All-Stars and a few songs by guest vocalist Leila Pinheiro. He quickly set the scene for the splendid music yet to come, with a collection of superbly crafted tunes--rich with captivating melodies, turbulent with surging rhythms.
He sang several pieces from his current album, among them the title number, "Anjo de Mim" (I'm Not Alone) and "E de Deus" (It's From God), as well as "Comecar de Novo," known as "The Island" in its English-language version, a work much favored by jazz artists. (His songs have been recorded by, among others, Quincy Jones, George Benson, Terence Blanchard, the Manhattan Transfer and Nancy Wilson.)
But no one renders his works quite like the 52-year-old Lins. His voice a high, intensely personal instrument, moving easily from intimate passion to an infectious youthfulness, he was a gripping performer. And, although the moderate-sized audience was amply populated with Brazilians, Lins' Portuguese-language songs had no difficulty connecting emotionally with the English-speaking audience members as well. A climactic number, in which he superimposed a visceral, hard-driving Portuguese rap number over a driving, samba-based rhythm, was so powerful that it produced enthusiastic cheers from listeners who hadn't understood a word but who were clearly moved by the intensity of the presentation.
Gil, arriving after the intermission, kept the energy at a high level. Like Lins, he is a veteran of Brazil's complex, socially and politically significant music scene. One of the founders of '60s "Tropicalia," a movement that brought imaginative new ideas to every aspect of Brazilian culture, he also was forced to spend several years in exile in the early '70s by the then-dominant military dictatorship.
He brought every bit of that experience to his performance, which was a masterful example of a world-class musical artist at work. Slender, constantly in motion, the 55-year-old Gil sang a broad selection of tunes that ranged across his lengthy career, as well as several Bob Marley reggae tunes (including the seminal "Stir It Up"), bringing his talented eight-piece ensemble into virtually every number.
In one especially effective piece, the entire group lined up with Gil to create an irresistible, body-moving flow of rhythm, employing little more than hand percussion instruments. Moving to the apron of the stage, they managed to persuade the audience to join in with a set of complicated but enormously effective hand-clapping.
Unfortunately, the lengthy opening set by Castro-Neves (in which he applied Brazilian rhythms to such numbers as "In the Mood" and Bach's "Air on a G String") pushed Gil's performance into the late-evening hours. Still going strong at 11 p.m., he was beginning to lose his audience--a shame, since his music (and Lins', as well) deserved every bit of attention it could get. Bowl performances don't get a lot better than this.