Eumir Deodato’s heyday was in the mid-1970s, when jazzy grooves filled the dance floor and his funky remake of Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” was a crossover hit, thanks in some part to Strauss’s music being used in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Brazilian has had other successes – he’s notched up 16 platinum records as artist, producer or arranger – but these are somewhat off the public radar, and “Zarathustra” remains his attention-grabber.
Deodato opened the first set of this slightly understated gig with Zarasthustra’s mysteries of space keyboards intro and, in a surprisingly early reprise, returned to it towards the end of the second. Such flights of fancy, though, were rare, and it was the leader’s nagging, one-note piano figure that set the evening’s tone.
Most compositions started with a single voice – a gritty figure from Deodato’s electric piano; a crunchy riff from bass guitar; a repetitive Samba beat – and added rhythmic layers one at a time. The pared-down grooves were then spiced by stinging riffs, brass-section glitz and soloists introduced on the nod – guitarist Al Cherry outstanding all night. And with Deodato’s grainy sound a rhythmic powerhouse and drummer Pat Illingworth keeping it simple, the absence of clutter meant each detail was made to count.
And yet, there was a slight air of unease to Deodato’s minimal directions and absence of stage announcements – he didn’t say a word even when he stopped for the intermission. Perhaps it was the brass who, though strong on the riff, harmonised too sweetly on the glitz. But each built their feature to a climax – Trevor Mires on trombone and Andy Ross riffing and whooping on baritone sax had show-stopping moments – so this was a minor quibble.
Both sets whizzed through unnamed grooves – “Summertime” audible in the first – until Deodato revealed all. “These guys? It’s the first time we met.” Apparently, a storm in Brazil had delayed his arrival and a short rehearsal with his London-based musicians had to suffice. He namechecked each one from a list – “guitarist Al Cherry, incredible” said Deodato; and he was – before finishing with Steely Dan’s “Do it Again”.