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Yo-Yo Ma: Obrigado Brazil: Live in Concert

Perhaps anticipating Obrigado Brazil’s Grammy wins, Sony Classical recorded Yo-Yo Ma and his colleagues in a concert at New York’s Zankel Hall. No sooner had the awards victories in three categories been announced than the follow-up Live in Concert was on its way to the CD bins. That’s marketing. In this case, corporate strategy is more than opportunistic. The successor disc delivers plenty that’s new. The 14 pieces from the concert include only five that were on the original album, and the performances have the added edge that comes from a good relationship between musicians and audience.

Ma is ubiquitous in 21st-century music for good reason. He is a stunning cellist in all respects, adapts well to the many forms in which he collaborates and exudes passion in his playing. Unlike many classical players who sound stiff when they enter other idioms, he is fun to hear. If most of his work is channeled through a Bach sensibility, there are far worse kinds of homogenization. It is impressive to hear him adapt his inner Bach to Brazilian rhythms and melody, a marriage that, after all, works for Brazilians, including Villa Lobos and Jobim. The enchanting singer and guitarist Rosa Passos all but steals the CD in three Jobim songs and one by Ary Barroso. In addition, she is featured in a 12-minute bonus DVD. Sony has put Passos under contract as a solo artist, and for good reason. Paquito D’Rivera’s exuberant, good-natured, clarinet work is a joy. Because he does it so subtly, he gets a pass for soliciting a cheap laugh from the audience sitting in a hall notorious for its subway-noise problem; he quotes “Take the ‘A’ Train” in his “So Danco Samba” solo.

On “Cristal,” reprised from the first album, and “Bodas de Prata & Quatro Cantos,” pianist Kathryn Stott and Ma demonstrate what two rigorously accomplished musicians can do with dynamics, territory in which too many jazz players are strangers. Ma and guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad give a performance of Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Suite” that is riveting for maintaining precision without sacrificing Piazzolla’s relentless spirit of abandon. Bassist Nilson Matta and percussionist Cyro Baptista are impressive throughout the CD.

Profound music? Perhaps not. Pleasant and entertaining? Unquestionably.

Originally Published