The opening weekend of the London Jazz Festival encompassed everything from the elder statesmen Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter to the 10 rumbling baritone saxophones of the Japanese ensemble Tokyo-Chutei-Iki. So the presence in the programme of the Brazilian singer Seu Jorge - who undeniably falls more into the category of world music than jazz - was no mistake, more an acknowledgement of the kissing cousin relationship that jazz has long had with the rhythms of the rest of the Americas. One thinks of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo, or Stan Getz and Tom Jobim; in the case of Jorge the name of Milton Nascimento, many of whose compositions have been recorded by jazz musicians, springs inexorably to mind.
Tall and Afro-haired like Nascimento, 36-year-old Jorge shares the same background of high guitar-driven samba, and his compositions are also often characterised by the yearning lyricism that marks his musical forebear's work. His voice, though, is deeper. This, combined with the acoustic of the Roundhouse, lent an extraordinarily declamatory quality to his singing in the opening part of his set. Being backed only by a drummer, two percussionists and two other guitars as well as his own, it also framed his voice with great clarity.
No instrument was operating at the same musical pitch as Jorge, and it is a testament to the quality of his voice that it could bear the weight of such unsupported exposure. At times he cut into a stream of consonants with the attack of a well-rosined bow, at others he let vowels flow like slow-spilling molasses. He threw the crowd a bone with what has become the obligatory percussion solo. But Jorge's strength is in his voice, and the most enchanting music was made when it was accompanied by his own guitar-playing.
Jorge is best known to a wider audience for his acting roles in City of God and The Life Aquatic, for the latter of which he provided much of the soundtrack with Portuguese versions of David Bowie songs. Much more complex music than this will be performed at the London Jazz Festival; but Jorge's ballads will probably have been some of the most affecting.Reuse content