Nana Vasconcelos


The berimbau is an Afro-Brazilian percussion Instrument consisting of what appears to be a bow strung with wire and a resonating gourd atthe base. In the hands of Nana Vasconcelos, this primitive instrument becomes a kind of one-man percussion orchestra, from which he extracts the most incredible spectrum of colour and pitch variations. Vasconcelos has lust finished playing the second of two splendid Dueen’s Hall concerts with Jan Garbarek without using the Instrument. but he gives me an amazing demonstration in the dressing-room. ‘This,’ he tells me, grinning broadly, ‘is my African synthesizer.‘ Vasconcelos‘ work spans a huge range of percussion instruments, from simple bells and gongs through ethnic instruments like the berimbau to sampled drum machines, an area explored in his recent solo album Bush Dancer, where he constructs shimmering,

polyrhythmlc soundscapes from the now pervasive, but still under-explored, electronic medium.

‘When I run a programme on the drum machine, ltry to use it like percussion, or like a bass line for meto sing over. Musicians will have to team to deal with electronics. but the real drum is making a comeback in the studios again, lthlnk because everybody programmes the drum machine the same way, instead oi experimenting with it, and people gettired of hearing that same sound.

‘The whole thing began because four years agol decided to stop playing with Pat Metheny and went off to do something with dance. I came back to New York and found this break-dance thing going off in the streets, and I went along and asked If I could playlor the dancers. After a while one guy said to me “stop man. No offence, but i don’t want this fucking )azz.’ I went away and thought about it and realised it was because i played acoustic, so I went out and bought a drum machinel I did a tour

with the dancers. and it was a great experience for me, and I have continued to experiment with the machine since, especially interms otorchestratlon.’ Vasconcelos is one ofthe very limited band of percussion players both able and willing to undertake solo concerts and recordings. a notoriously difficult area in wich he has scored notable successes. ills emergence as a player began in groups, though, first with singer Milton flascimento, then Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbleri, an association which marked his entryto the international fan scene. A long collaboration with guitarist Egberto Glsmonti followed, since when he has played in an increasingly diverse range of contexts, from Pat Metheny to Talking Heads, B.B. lting to Jan Garbarek.l asked if there was a big difference for him between group and solo work? ‘Very different. When l'm doing solo l'm doing my own music, my compositions. in a band I do other people’s music. With Garbarek,

there is a lot olspace for everyone in the band. which is very nice. Sometimes, for example, i play in a band with a drummer and the whole thing changes, depending a lot on howa drummer understands percussion. lfyou geta fabulous player like Jack de Johnette it is difficult to find a spot. because he fills out the sound so much himself, especially since I liketo play a lot with silence and space as well as with sound. But it is good to play with a drummer. l usedto be a drummer myself. butl play drums a lot differently now. lthlnk a lot more about colours and so on, rather than just rhythm.’ Vasconcelos returns to Scotland with one of the most exciting of contemporaryjazz groupings, the gathering of stars which constitutes Don Cherry's flu. Trumpeter Cherry and fiana are old collaborators from Codona, a band with the late Collin Walcott which used percussion and traditional ethnic instrumentation,

informed by a contemporary

jazz sensibility, while the drum seat in the band is

held by Ed Blackwell, whose

association with Cherry goes back to Omaha

Coleman’s ground-breaking

1960s' quartets, and the much-lamented Old and New Dreams band with Dewey Bedman. This is one drummerwho presents no problems from the percussionist.

‘Take the case of flu, with Ed Blackwell. lie lsa different drummerto anyone else I know. he has a personal style that comes from New Orleans. the real New Orleans roots, and he has transposed all of thatto the drums. it sounds very simple, but it’s fantastic. We played together with Nu three years ago, which was the first time I had been able to play with him on a tour, playing every day, and we were able to work with each other, teaming where to leave spaces and so on.

‘lt became very important for me to team about the sources which Ed Blackwell has in his playing. We had a very good time and leltvery comfortable, and the music became more olan international mixture, not Brazil, not America, you know, but a mixture. It is very important to listen, and then i can find my space, and we can share things with each other. ldon't use the drum machine in Nu. because Blackwell IS a drum machine - there's no room for another drummer in this band! Blackwell alwaystries to say something when he plays, he doesn't tryto explain anything. This is Important you know, a lot of muslcans

don't understand about that.

‘tiu is an interesting band to be in. I like that spread from harrnolodics to the more ethnic, organic Codona approach. It Is also very free to play with Don- as a musician he is very unpredictable, you never know where he is going to go next, he changes around all the time! You have to be 100% there and aware of what is happening lnthe moment. There are a lot of new dimensions for everybody, nothing is really established In the group, it’s always changing, always in transition. It sounds fresh that iswhat Nu means. it is a very interesting combination of a lot of different aspects.‘

Nu's stellar line-up is completed by saxophonist Carlos Ward, last seen over here with the Abdullah

Ibrahim (formerly Dollar Brand) Septet. and the brilliant young bass player Mark Helias, whose credits run from exploratory contemporary jazz sessions underhis own name to the bass duties Inthe avant-funk quintet Slickaphonics. This Is the band'slirst British Tour, and the Scottish dates take in Aberdeen Arts Centre (21 Oct), Dundee Whitehlll Theatre (22 Oct), Edinburgh Dueen's Hall (23 Oct), and Glasgow Henry Wood Hall (24 Oct). Platform are also trying to arrange some workshop sessions with both Ed Blackwell and Vasconcelos during that week- call 031 226 4179 for details. (Kenny Mathieson)


The title character of Lulu in Berg's opera (based on two plays by Wedekind) is always described asthe archetypal femme fatale. She is young and attractive (if passive and rather heartless) and it men fall hopelessly in love with her and even die for her, well,

that is hardly herlault.

She is the cause olthe death of all three other husbands and rises to fame and success as an actress. Then, mid-way though the opera she falls from grace. She commits murder, descends into prostitution and is murdered in turn. But despite the fascination of herstory in many ways Berg was perhaps saying as much about men as he was aboutwomen. ‘lt's definitely a very male view

of the female sex. it says a

great deal about the way men suffer from sexual passion and can allow it to dominate theirthinking' says John Cox who will be directing Scottish Opera's new production of Lulu. ‘From time immemorial the female of the species has

Beverly Morgan; Lulu

been blamed for all manner of things and Berg goes down that path quite a distance. But I think this is mainly to show up how foolish men can be and morallythe wholething shifts about a great deal, so for example he is asking “when does an opportunity become a temptation, and when does atemptation become an act of folly?” A strong autobiographical element is also often seen in the opera. ‘Berg was totally happily married but he did have a passionate love for another woman (Hanna Fuchs-Robettin) which I suspect he didn't even want to consummate so from that point of view he resisted the figure of Lulu if you like' says John Cox ‘Dn the other hand this love for Hanna meant an immense amount to his own creative genius and there is certainly a great deal to be said for Lulu having a sort of muse dimension. lnthe opera she is the inspiration of the painter, the poet-schoolboy, and the composer, Alwa.’

Alwa is Lulu's stepson. the son of Dr Schsn whom she loves yet kills, and she latertakes Alwa as her lover. ‘Alwa is very possibly a self-portrait of Berg and certianlythe way in which the most lyrical and rapsodic music is lavished on that character would suggst Berg is telling us something about his own passion' says Cox,

Berg died in 1935 withthe final act (telling of Lulu's downfall and murder) left unfinished and she, perhaps avoiding its autobiographical connection. apparently resisted all attempts to

2 The List 16 29 October