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Latest ReleaseView All

Milton + esperanza

Release date: 8.9.24

Label: Concord Records

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May 15, 2024

Milton + esperanza Out August 9 (Concord Records)

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Biography View

For years, esperanza spalding dreamed about making music with Milton Nascimento, the revered Brazilian singer-songwriter. spalding first heard Nascimento as a student at Berklee College of Music, in Boston, in the early 2000s. The evening lives vividly in her memory. Crammed into her bedroom in the apartment she shared with four other musicians, she hosted a group of friends from Brazil for a dinner of inexpertly made sushi rolls. One of them put on Native Dancer, Nascimento’s collaboration with saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, released in 1975. The first sound on the album is Nascimento’s otherworldly falsetto, accompanied by gentle piano. “I get chills even thinking about it,” she says now. The music is pastoral, beatific; but she recalls feeling almost angry: “How could I have not known about this before?”

Milton + esperanza, out on August 9 (Concord Records), is the moving culmination of spalding’s long-held admiration. A mixture of classics from Nascimento’s catalog, new songs from spalding, and covers from other artists, including The Beatles and Michael Jackson, the album is a portrait of their creative relationship. “Ninety percent of things I write,” she says, “I’m thinking of him. I’m thinking of his voice. I’m imagining singing it with him. He’s a very present part of my creative imagination.” But, she clarifies, that doesn’t mean she’d gone so far as to imagine a collaborative album; that existed beyond her fantasies.

The seeds of their connection were planted by Herbie Hancock, who first told Nascimento about spalding’s music. The endorsement primed Nascimento to accept the invitation to duet on the “Apple Blossom,” from spalding’s 2010 album Chamber Music Society, and in that recording session they acknowledged an affinity (once upon a time, Nascimento played bass in a jazz trio when he was a teenager) and fondness between them. They shared the stage together the next year, at the annual Rock in Rio festival, and from then on, any time she traveled through Brazil, she would try to stop in at Nascimento’s home in Rio De Janeiro to jam and talk. That might have been the whole story, had it not been for Nascimento’s son suggesting, out of the blue, that spalding produce a record for his father. This was at a bar in 2022, after one of the performances on Nascimento’s farewell tour, and she felt “sideswiped.” This golden opportunity was here—and the clock was already running. Because of the tour, Nascimento’s son explained, Milton’s voice was in particularly good shape, so it would be best to begin as soon as possible.

She set to work, recalling words from one of her other elders, Wayne Shorter, whom she has collaborated on the opera Iphigenia with. “A few times Wayne had said to me, ‘You got to keep some of what you don't want, so that nothing's wasted.’ And I didn't want the element of feeling pressed for time.” But of course she pressed forward.

The album opens with Nascimento and spalding in conversation; he recalls waking from a dream to music. What follows is a dream realized. “Cais,” from Nascimento’s expansive, Beatles-inspired masterpiece Clube Da Esquina (1972), is the first song proper, and if the listener had any doubts about the strength of the 81-year-old’s voice, all concerns are set aside by the colossal note spalding and Nascimento hold together midway through the performance. Across the album’s 16 songs and interludes, the contrasting textures between their voices evokes exquisite poignancy; you can’t help but reflect on the passage of time, why art endures, and the indefatigable spirit of human creativity. 

Joined by her core band of Matthew Stevens (guitar), Justin Tyson and Eric Doob (drums), Leo Genovese (piano), Corey D. King (vocals, synths), spalding and Nascimento together reimagined five of his beloved songs, along with four spalding originals, and covers from The Beatles, Michael Jackson, the Brazilian guitarist Guinga, and Shorter. Though she did some arranging and other work in the States, much of the recording happened in Rio; authenticity and connection are crucial to the project.

“Outubro,” from 1969, is the oldest song of Nascimento’s on the album, and like “Cais” it’s another towering entry in his catalog. (It’s also one of spalding’s personal favorites; she says that just recording those two songs would have been enough to leave her satisfied.) From Nascimento’s album Courage, “Outubro” is one of his most emotionally forceful songs. The narrator of the song describes feelings of loneliness and despair, but chooses to search for love and reawaken a new desire for life anyway. As a duet, the song soars and unfurls, with an extended outro that features brilliant flute playing from Elena Pinderhughes.

Nascimento’s influences are many, but he has long drawn inspiration from the Beatles and the natural world. Thus, they boldly reinterpret “A Day in the Life” as well as Michael Jackson’s apocalyptic warning “Earth Song” on Milton + esperanza. The fab four were in their 20s when they recorded the magisterial, experimental closing number of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and hearing it from Nascimento at this stage in his life gives it renewed import. “Earth Song,” with its images of ecological disaster and children killed during war, is as timely as ever, a harrowing account of a planet on the brink.

Paul Simon drops in for a duet (“Um Vento Passou”), along with the Brazilian guitarist Guinga (“Saci”), the American jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves (“Earth Song”), British vocalist Lianne La Havas (“Saudade Dos Aviões Da Panair”), Shabaka, and Carolina Shorter, Wayne’s wife, among others. The album concludes with a cover of Shorter’s stunning “When You Dream,” bringing the album back to where it began, by dwelling in possibility and the unconscious. It is a stunning, satisfying piece of work.

spalding can conjure Nascimento’s home, where most of his vocals were recorded, from memory. Outside the three-tiered home, in the courtyard, is a small outdoor amphitheater outside, named for Shorter; inside, on the main floor, you pass by a portrait of Nascimento as a child, dressed in a clown suit (“Adorable,” spalding says), before arriving at the grand piano. When working on the project, she would sometimes arrive while Nasicmento was doing physical therapy or resting; making this album a success required understanding Nascimento’s life and schedule as an octogenarian. “His ideal recording day would be: watch novelas from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., record for an hour and a half, then go back to watching novelas,” she says, laughing. Working with her engineer, they even set up recording equipment in the room where he liked to watch television. “The only way I could have made the album more authentic is if I had included an excerpt of his favorite novela theme songs.”

“In ways I did choose and did not choose, my life has brought me into close proximity and care and collaboration with elders,” spalding explains. She is the rare artist who has successfully made art with a number of the elders who came before her.

She’s possessed this inclination since she was a child. “My mother used to work in adult foster care homes,” she says, “and I was homeschooled at that time, so I would hang out with elders all day long, other people's grandmas and grandpas. It was weird, wonderful, and incredible. I found that it’s a joy to be kicked out of my preference for relating, and get into another being’s rhythm. Yes, I've heard this story six times, but on the sixth time, I’ve heard something I hadn't heard before, and it means something different today.”

More than celebrating Nascimento’s gifts and long artistic journey, Milton + esperanza is a warmly considered argument for connecting with our elders. It does not shy away from how discursive conversation can be with our elders, making room between songs for spoken recollections and wisdom from Nascimento; it gazes with love at how age changes the body, capturing his voice as it is now, without using studio technology to smooth out any perceived imperfections or stretch it beyond its current ability. The album invites you to spend time with a person who is a repository of knowledge—80-plus years of lived experience exists in his mind and voice. Milton + esperanza shares this simple miracle with you. It models for the listener a tender embrace of mentor and disciple, each gazing with mutual admiration towards what’s come before, and the future of music ahead.


About Milton Nascimento

A once-in-a-generation talent from a time and place famous for producing multiple geniuses, Milton Nascimento is, quite simply, one of the most revered musicians alive. The beloved Brazilian pop vocalist Elis Regina once declared that “if God had a voice, it would be Milton’s.” Born in Rio De Janeiro in 1942 and raised in the small town of Tres Pontas, in the state of Minas Gerais, Nascimento began cutting records in the late ’60s. He was immediately recognized as an evocative lyricist—his subject matter encompasses protest songs and the natural world; songs of friendship, love, and racial harmony—with the brilliant ability to create unpredictable melodies, textures, and harmonics. As the Washington Post put it, “His voice seemed to exist in some anti-gravitational state between floating and soaring, and his ability to suspend exquisite melodies over motley song forms led him toward alliances with pop stars of nearly every stripe.” 

Early in his career, a collective of young musicians gathered around him, yielding the 1972 double album Clube Da Esquina. Synthesizing the kaleidoscopic pop ambitions of the Beatles, the exploratory jazz of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Western classical, and Indigenous Brazilian music, Clube Da Esquina is the kind of masterpiece that music lovers pass amongst themselves like an open secret, or religious text. (It was awarded a 9.5 by Pitchfork in one of their coveted Sunday Reviews in 2018, deemed “One of the most ambitious albums in Brazilian history.”)  Nascimento’s voice is the album’s mighty soul.  His solo output, including highlights Courage (1969), Minas (1975), and Pietá (2003), span decades and more than 50 albums.  

Nascimento is the recipient of four Latin Grammys and one Grammy award, and has collaborated with Paul Simon, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Peter Gabriel, James Taylor, and Wayne Shorter, to name but a few. The American press has described Nascimento as a Brazilian national treasure, but the truth is his gift knows no man-made borders. He is the world’s treasure, and his music is ceaselessly rediscovered by young musicians and music lovers alike. ''I can sing in Portuguese and still communicate with people who don't know the language,'' he once said. “I work from the heart, and the heart speaks for itself.''



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