Everybody loves Milton Nascimento. From Björk to Tortoise and his compatriots Marco Valle, Chico Buarque, Airto Moreira and many others. His music is frequently sung by great artists.
As a musical breeding ground, Brazil has produced an abundance of composers–often marvelous melodists who build on its heritage of traditional rhythms. Milton Nascimento is one of them. His repertoire of masterful pieces, often intertwined with the lyricism of Fernando Brant, has seduced many performers in both of the Americas and in Japan, its reach of influence spreading beyond jazz and into other areas, too.
Milton’s ripple effect prompted musical responses before long: the opening track on Milton Nascimento (1967) influenced many of its listeners. For starters, “Travessia” was reinterpreted by Milton’s muse, Elis Regina, about whom he said: “from the moment I knew her, all my music was composed for her.” But the English version of this song, “Bridges,” (Gene Lees translation of Fernando Brant’s lyrics), on the album, Courage, was to be covered like no other. Sarah Vaughan’s effort is a must-listen. With Milton himself, she reprised the track on I Love Brazil (1977) with the participation of Antônio Carlos Jobim and Dorival Caymmi.
With varied levels of success, covers by Tony Bennett (Life is Beautiful, 1975), Flora Purim (Nothing Will Be As It Was … Tomorrow, 1977), Sergio Mendes (Brasil ’88, 1978), Mark Murphy (Brazil Songs, 1984) and Dianne Reeves (Bridges, 1999) have also helped to make this track a standard in both jazz and pop. There are also two intriguing Japanese versions: a sugary reworking by Maki Nomiya, the lead singer of the Pizzicato Five (Dress Code, 2004), and a reggae restyling by the Reggae Disco Rockers (Melodies, 2007).
Milton Nascimento’s music is frequently sung by his compatriots, too. To name a few: “Aqui é país do futebol” (Wilson Simonal, Marcos Valle), “Circo Marimbondo” (Airto Moreira, Chico Buarque), “Tudo que você podia ser” (Azimuth, Quarteto Em Cy), etc. Additionally, his work was often performed in South America, at a time when artists on the continent shared a common resistance to dictatorships; the Argentine activist Mercedes Sosa co-opted two rousing tracks “San Vicente” and “O cio da terra,” to further her cause.
But some of his biggest admirers can be found in the United States, starting of course, with Wayne Shorter, with whom he collaborated on Native Dancer (1974). The saxophonist, known to choose his projects carefully, has interpreted several of his compositions: “Tarde,” “Miracle of the Fishes,” “From the Lonely Afternoons,” “Lilia” and “Ponta de Areia.” Later, he also reinterpreted “Vera Cruz” on the album Moto Grosso Feio (1993). No coincidence then that the bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, who is close to Shorter, receiving his endorsement early on, has since released her own version of “Ponta de Areia” (Esperanza, 2008). Another notable mention is Earth, Wind & Fire’s reworking of the same track which took the form of a sublime instrumental interlude that is interlaced with an armada of strings and flutes (All ‘n All, 1977).
As a more contemporary example, Mia Doi Todd and José González offered an enjoyable version of “Um girassol da cor do seu cabelo” on the compilation Red Hot + Rio 2 (2011), while “Cravo e Canela,” by Tortoise and Bonnie “Prince” Billy came as an unexpected reprisal on their joint album, The Brave and the Bold (2006). As proof that the influence of Milton Nascimento has not diminished, his song, “Francisco”, was reworked by the young Californian Kadhja Bonet on her album The Visitor (2006), exactly forty years after Herbie Hancock played piano on the original version. “The idea that truth can reside in beauty is being lost in modern jazz and rock’n roll, but the Brazilians have kept it, and Milton is the best example,” explained Sting in 1991.
But perhaps his greatest admirer of all is Björk, who has always declared “Travessia” a personal favorite of hers, to the point that she recruited the original arranger of the standard, Eumir Deodato, to support several of her tracks on Post (1995) and Homogenic (1997). In 1996, after being asked to participate in the first Red Hot + Rio compilation she chose, characteristically, to perform “Travessia,” in Portuguese. The song was recorded, and Deodato had arranged it, but Björk ultimately decided to withdraw from the project. Unsurprisingly, the version was leaked anyway. It can be listened to today on YouTube, adding the Icelandic singer’s name to the long list of artists who have been moved by Milton Nascimento’s compositions.