It’s difficult to describe Danilo Brito's expression when he plays. His face seems to go through subtle emotional shifts as the music progresses: One moment nostalgic, the next joyful, the Brazilian mandolinist slips between different states almost imperceptibly. If you weren’t paying close attention you might not even notice. But whatever the state may be at any given time, one thing Brito’s face will always express is a profound sense of being at ease. No matter how hard the music is — and some of what he plays really is fiendishly difficult — he always looks relaxed. The way he approaches the music makes it appear as if playing is an intensely personal experience, and when performing he is entirely in his element. And, like all great performers, when he plays it’s as if he’s inviting his audience to share in some charming secret, to make a collective experience out of what was his own solitary domain.
Kerrytown Concert House saw all this last weekend, as Brito returned to perform there for the second year in a row. Playing to a sold-out venue, Brito was joined in the concert by an extraordinarily skilled collaborator, guitarist João Luiz, to play a program of classics and original compositions from the Brazilian choro genre. Throughout the evening the energy never dissipated, and the packed house offered enthusiastic applause at the end of each new piece (and once mistakenly in the middle).
Brito and Luiz played music in a variety of moods, much of which they recently recorded for release on an upcoming album. At the beginning of the concert, the pair spent what felt like several minutes tuning their instruments, prompting Brito to joke (with translation by Luiz, as Brito doesn’t speak English) that the destiny of string players was to spend “half the concert tuning, and the other half playing out of tune.” When the concert did at last begin, the pair held nothing back, opening with a lively and quick piece that set the virtuosic tone for the rest of the evening.
As the concert progressed, with the artists announcing each new part of the program from the stage, Brito and Luiz touched on a number of classics from the genre and played some original compositions of Brito’s. While the name of the genre they worked within — choro — technically means “cry” or “lament,” more often than not the selections were upbeat and whimsical, sporting names (once translated) like “Coconut Candy,” “Laughing,” “Little Monkey” and “1–0” (in reference to a football match between Brazil and Uruguay). Often the music was rhythmically demanding and technically involved, features which showcased the musicians’ remarkable abilities. Both Brito and Luiz demonstrated a fluidity and control not often seen in performers, and in particular their sense of rhythm and timing was astonishing, as the two constantly pulled off diabolically challenging rhythms in what seemed almost a matter of habit.
Throughout the concert, Brito and Luiz shared an excellent rapport. Constantly watching each other for visual cues and indications about the direction of the music, the two worked as one unit, an aspect of the performance which was made more remarkable by the fact that this tour marks the first time the musicians have worked together. The two seemed, however, to get along splendidly, despite coming from quite different musical backgrounds, and at various points each expressed admiration for the musicianship of the other (in one moment Brito comically accused Luiz of mistranslating the compliments Brito was giving him in order to temper the praise). But the way that the two musicians worked together truly lent a certain shine to the performance, and the polish of their playing was quite noticeable.
As the evening progressed, a few standout pieces emerged. One of these was a composition by Brito himself, a piece called “Raining,” which, in contrast to the stunning virtuosity of much of the program, was slower, lyrical and pensive, and its presence offered a breath of fresh air amongst what was often a flurry of notes.
By the end of the concert, the audience was thoroughly engaged with the musicians, and demanded two encores before they allowed the performance to end. This was but one of the many signs that Brito and Luiz succeeded in one of the most fundamental tasks of the performer, that is to say, to convince their listeners that the music should go on forever. With any luck, perhaps next year they will return to Ann Arbor to make sure it goes on for at least another concert more.