Frontman takes backseat to supporting musicians

But saxophonist displays sterling technique

Friday, November 19, 2004

The real star of Dave Pietro's Banda Brazil is not, as you might expect, Dave Pietro.

That's no knock on Pietro, a saxophonist with lots of ideas -- influences from Brazil, Brubeck and the Bhagavad-Gita can be heard in his music -- and sterling technique. What's more, Pietro is an energetic showman, stomping, hunching and wriggling his way across the stage during solos.

But Pietro, who played Thursday night at the Lawrence Arts Center, was far from the most interesting thing about his own band.

That honor goes to his two drummers, Adriano Santos and Pedro Ito -- especially Ito. Without these two musicians, Pietro's music, though heavily influenced by the sounds of Brazil, might well have sounded indistinguishable from any number of "smooth jazz" concerts.

Ito, who spent most of his time on congas and a variety of other percussion instruments clustered on the stage around him, was a show-stopper in the night's third tune, an East Indian-inspired song, "The Scene Between Two Unseens."

As Pietro's sax dropped away, along with the piano, bass and drums, Ito was left alone to strum an ektar -- a one-stringed Indian instrument -- and sing, plaintively (though not in English). The effect was mesmerizing.

The evening's climax also belonged to the drummers: "Cururu" is based on 300-drum parades through Brazil during Carnivale. Santos and Ito paved the way with a rousing, rhythmic drum duet that was accompanied only briefly by the rest of the band. The song, the last of the set, earned a standing ovation from the arts center crowd.

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Special to the Journal-World

Saxophonist and composer Dave Pietro brought his Banda Brazil Thursday evening to the Lawrence Arts Center for the second installment of the Jazz at the Arts Center series.

Pietro got fine accompaniment from the rest of his band, as well: Leonardo Cioglia on bass and pianist Helio Alves, a Wallace Shawn lookalike described by the program as a "soft-spoken but confident young man who has the look and manner of a benign seducer."

And for nonpercussion moments, Pietro was at his best on "Canto Triste," which managed the nifty trick of combining balladry, bossa nova and crime jazz. His other songs, taken from his CD, "Embrace: Impressions of Brazil" were mostly unremarkable, though well-performed.

Music aside, Pietro was also entertaining when describing how the songs were inspired -- a mass purchase of CDs in Brazil, reading Eastern holy scriptures, and so on.

"We're going to do our best to take you to some sunny weather," he promised the crowd.

Pietro's concert was the second in the Jazz at the Arts Center series, and Lawrence continues to prove its appetite for jazz. The center's auditorium was mostly full, with a few empty seats -- but not enough to embarrass the city's jazz supporters.