Montreal Jazz Festival: Milton Nascimento Theatre Maisonneuve, Montreal QC June 25

Montreal Jazz Festival: Milton Nascimento Theatre Maisonneuve, Montreal QC June 25
A glass of water and a glass of red wine sat centre stage in front of a full house of nearly 1,500 -- was Milton Nascimento going to turn one into the other with his divine, angelic voice? By the end of the show, both glasses were half full; only a pessimist would call them half empty.

As a singer, guitarist and especially composer of a unique oeuvre of post-Beatles pop/jazz/prog for nearly 45 years, Nascimento's legendary status seems diminutive. Needless to say, expectations were high for one of Brazil's most renowned artists.

He had not performed in Montreal for 15 years and if there's anything more enthusiastic than a Montreal audience, it's a Montreal audience packed with Brazilians. That said, Nascimento seemed to have lost a few steps over the years. He admitted to voice issues a couple of times during the show, but there was more to it than that.

Looking like a cross between Miles Davis and Rick James plus 50 pounds, he barely shuffled around the stage and had to have a guitar strapped to him by a roadie. During the first couple of songs, his voice was breathless, a little barky and distressingly non-swinging during passages that required a lot of breath control. Still, as Nascimento sipped more wine, he was able to ease into his considerable repertoire much to the delight of the crowd, who at one point gave him a partial standing ovation at the beginning of a ballad.

Nascimento's band was mostly fabulous. It was a rock configuration of bass, guitar, drums and keyboard, and did an able job of translating his complex, string-fuelled hits of the '70s and intricate electronics of his '80s and '90s works, even though the pianist foisted single-note synth leads on us from time to time, which veered close to fuzak. Still, the only thing keeping the band from truly taking flight was the Nascimento's inability to keep up on guitar and swing easy with the groove they were pushing forward.

But these are all half-empty-type comments. The crowd loved each and every minute, and their warm reaction gave Nascimento strength, particularly at one moment where he sustained a high falsetto note for about 15 seconds, as if to say "I can still do this." There was a hard-won grace to this concert, which didn't transcend expectations but made for a totally worthwhile show.