Berkeley waited 51 years to hear Arthur Verocai present his funky, lusciously orchestrated Brazilian compositions. Would another hour make a difference?
Of course, for more than three decades, almost no one in Berkeley or anywhere else had a clue about Verocai’s eponymous 1972 debut album, which was ignored on its release, scuttling his rising career as a songwriter, arranger, and composer who’d helped spark an explosion of pop music creativity in Brazil via collaborations with Ivan Lins, Jorge Ben, Gal Costa, and Elis Regina. Rediscovered by vinyl-heads and hip-hoppers in the early aughts, Arthur Verocai became an oft-harvested orchard for producers and rappers, with samples showing up on tracks by the likes of MF Doom, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, and Little Brother.
After decades of writing jingles and scores for soap operas, Verocai was belatedly recognized as a major talent in the 21st century, a reevaluation that reached its latest peak on his first-ever U.S. tour, produced by the Los Angeles label and production house Jazz Is Dead. Concluding the four-city jaunt with a 30-piece orchestra on Saturday at the sold-out UC Theatre, Verocai delivered a glorious 70-minute set of music that fully captured the breadth of his orchestral vision, despite persistent problems with the sound mix and recurring bouts of feedback.
The fact that the show started an hour late, with no reason given, wouldn’t have felt as egregious if the sound techs had figured out how to maintain the audio balance during horn solos, but the audience’s spirit seemed undampened by the delay and the glitches. After a brief video tribute to recently departed Brazilian master João Donato, who died last month at 88, producer and Jazz Is Dead co-founder Adrian Younge played hype man for Verocai, introducing him with a fervent buildup.
Tall, lanky, and clearly delighted by the reverent standing-room-only house, Verocai conducted the orchestra from center stage, while contributing vocals on about half of the pieces after opening with two instrumentals, starting with the final track on his debut album, “Karina.”
The expert Brazilian-born, L.A.-based guitarist Rogê and Brazilian actress Samantha Schmütz, who has emerged in the last decade as a formidable vocalist and songwriter, provided most of the evening’s vocals, harmonizing effectively on “Dedicada à Ela” (Dedicated to her). A dazzling player, Rogê sounded most authoritative on “Pelas Sombras” (By the shadows), while Schmütz brought Elis Regina to mind on “O Tempo e o Vento.”
Both Schmütz and Rogê — the latter with a new album, Curyman, featuring gorgeous Verocai string arrangements — are relatively late bloomers in music, and it seems like more than a coincidence that Verocai brought them on board for his first tour. Not that his music needs vocals to tell a story. “Sucuri” (Anaconda), a track from his 2007 album Encore, has an instrumental tune that would have made a memorable theme for a 1970s television drama.
When he took over vocals himself, like on a sublime version of “Caboclo,” Verocai sounded smooth and understated. As an arranger, his strength is marrying chunky guitar-driven funk lines to extended melodies defined by an exquisite blend of brass and strings. Though the ensemble often dropped out of the mix during solos, it wasn’t hard to get swept up in the musical drama. He closed the show by revisiting his oft-sampled song “Na Boca do Sol” (In the mouth of the sun), a savvy move by an artist who knows it’s never too late to give the people what they want.