Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito brings choro to jazz series

Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito performed on Sunday in the Cistern Yard.

It's become Spoleto custom to sprinkle the Wells Fargo Jazz Series with acts that don't quite fall within the genre. The result is a pleasant mix of cultures, exemplified on Sunday by Brazilian choro mandolinist Danilo Brito, who took the stage in the Cistern Yard.

Brito, 29, played for an hour and a half with his four bandmates: Carlos Moura on seven-string guitar, Lucas Arantes on cavaquinho, Wesley Vasconcelos on guitar and Roberto Figueroa playing percussion. They performed both original works and classic pieces from choro legends like Ernesto Nazareth and Pixinguinha.

The performance got off to a rocky start with an up-tempo original composition. Brito missed a handful of high notes in the lightning-fast melody, and the band wasn't tight.

But whatever caused the hiccups - bad luck, nerves? - quickly faded away. By the second song, a mid-tempo original with swelling phrases, the band had found its groove.

The real highlight of the concert came toward the end, when Brito told the crowd (through his translator) that he would be playing a couple songs in the frevo style. Frevo, which traditionally is played at Brazilian carnivals, is characterized by heavy syncopation that makes it great for dancing. Indeed, hearing the upbeats played so strongly by the group made it hard not to dance in one's seat.

It was during the frevo songs that a connection to jazz was most apparent. Although choro offers less freedom for improvisation than jazz, there is room to play with the melody, and Brito did that. He skillfully took a theme and expanded upon it. Choro is deeply rooted in tradition, and it is a genre with quite specific criteria, but Brito proved there is room for progress while respecting the integrity of the classics.

"Choro" translates to "crying" because the style is very emotional, though often upbeat. In order for a musician to properly play choro, he or she has to find a way to make the audience feel the music. Brito and his bandmates do this beautifully with their expert use of dynamics, especially during the down-tempo pieces.

Brito in particular is a master of phrasing, making the music swell and recede, ebb and flow and if the notes are on a wave.

But in the next moment, they're all showing off their technical skill, Brito's fingers flying up and down the fret board like it's nothing.

Brito and his bandmates may not be jazz musicians, but what Spoleto does best is bring other parts of the world to Charleston. The audience in the Cistern Yard got a crash course in choro's past and present through Brito's fantastic playing.

?Jessica Cabe is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.