Thursday, December 16, 2004
Weber Iago is starting to break out of his gilded cage.
Since arriving on the Peninsula in the early 1990s, the Brazilian pianist has become something of a local institution through his steady gigs at venues like the Highlands Inn, Bernard’s Lodge and, particularly Spanish Bay, where he worked for a dozen years. The region has served Iago well, providing him with a livelihood, a soul-stirring setting to inspire his composing, and a family-friendly environment in which to raise his daughter.
What’s missing is regular contact with North America’s wider Brazilian music scene. Though California is home to some of the best Brazilian players, Iago has tended to stay close to home when he isn’t making one of his annual trips to Europe, where he’s developed a large following.
“Although this is a very beautiful place, it can be very isolating,” says Iago, 42, who performs at the Jazz & Blues Company on Friday with ace Santa Cruz bassist Dan Robbins and 23-year-old Los Angeles-based Brazilian drummer Leo Costa, who is featured on Iago’s 2003 album Each Day’s Universe.
“Now I’m trying to expand and travel more,” Iago says, “looking for different ways for the music to be heard, whether by recording or traveling.”
Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Iago immersed himself in European classical music from a young age. The budding teenage pianist won numerous prizes as a player and a writer, which lead to graduate studies at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, where he focused on chamber music. His classical career was taking off in 1987 when he toured across Brazil with the Tabajara Orchestra, but his interest in jazz and improvisation compelled him to take a different route.
In 1988, Iago moved to Los Angeles, where he started developing a new compositional approach, combining his love of impressionism with Brazilian rhythms and improvisation. He formed an important friendship with legendary composer Moacir Santos, a major creative force in Brazilian music.
“Moacir Santos was a guru for everyone in LA,” Iago says. “I never took formal lessons with him, but we played together and recorded.”
It’s not surprising that Iago first came to Carmel at the urging of another Brazilian player who had just landed a gig in Pebble Beach. “It was supposed to just be a weekend at Spanish Bay,” Iago recalls. “It turned out to be 12 years.”
Known early in his career as Weber Drummond—the name under which he recorded two albums with the brilliant Brazilian guitarist, Romero Lubambo—the pianist took the name Iago in the early 90s. He’s vague about the reason for the change, attributing it to a spiritual experience, but notes that in the Roma (or Gypsy) language Iago means “child of the wind.” His latest release, Children of the Wind echoes that homage, although his compositions aren’t directly influenced by Roma music.
The album was actually recorded back in 1999, but Iago was waiting for the right distribution deal before officially releasing it. He ended up with the perfect company, Adventure Music, an outlet well-suited for his music, which is marked by intricate lines and rapid harmonic movement.
“He’s a very unique writer,” says Brazilian vocalist Claudia Villela, a world class artist who has gained national attention with the recent release of two breathtaking albums. “His sound is very striking. You can never mistake Weber for anyone else. A lot of the music is very complex and very dark, but he has many sides.”
Without a regular gig, Iago is now concentrating on turning the trio with Robbins and Costa into a premier working ensemble. They’ve played together enough that they’ve started to master his difficult pieces, which will make up the bulk of the program on Friday. “The classical side is very apparent in my music, though lately I’ve been missing a jazzier direction,” Iago says. “We enjoy playing standards too.”
Weber Iago performs 7:30pm Fri at the Jazz & Blues Company, San Carlos at 9th, Carmel. 624-6432.