A Taste of Brazil in Pasadena

Los Angeles Times

By Don Heckman

The annual fundraising events for Pasadena’s Union Station Foundation are always entertaining. This year’s program announced as a “Brazilian Style” production, was no exception. Once again held at the LA Music Academy, the Saturday-night benefit presented an evening in which every aspect-including food (feijoada or rice and beans), drinks (the potent caipirinhas), a silent auction and music-was carefully selected to fit within a Brazilian thematic framework.

The headline act was Brazilian pianist Sergio Mendes, now only a few weeks away from celebrating the 40th anniversary of his immensely popular Brasil 66 band. Not much has changed stylistically in Mendes’ music over the last four decades; it still retains a powerful capacity to entertain.

With two vocalists taking the lead, Mendes’ ensemble skimmed through a collection of his classics, from “Pretty World” and “Like a Lover” to “Mais Que Nada.” Each tune was energized by samba and bossa-nova rhythms and delivered with sufficient power, in the relatively intimate environs of the academy’s auditorium, to bring the capacity crown to its collective feet, clapping joyously and singing along with the most familiar melodies.

The evening opened on a somewhat more modest basis with the duo of singer Kevyn Letau and singer-guitarist Kleber Jorge performing intimate renderings of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Samba de Uma Nota So” and “Corcovado.” Next up, the Brazilian Classical trio-flutist Sarah Weiss, bassoonist Rose Corrigan and pianist Allen Robert Gross-offered intriguing (if somewhat casually executed) renderings of works by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Ernesto Nazareth (whose ragtimey maxixes suggested a Southern Hemisphere version of Scott Joplin).

Appropriately, the concert concluded with the most elemental forms of Brazilian music-the high-energy drumming of the Ula Samba School and the incredibly lithe martial-arts dancing of capoeira artists Boracha and Gibi.

As master of ceremonies Sergio Mielniczenko had promised in his opening remarks, by the time the two-hour program ended, the overflow audience had experienced a surprisingly far-reaching sample of Brazil’s rich cultural cornucopia.

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