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SpokFrevo Orquestra brings Brazilian improv to Englert

BY CLAIRE DIETZ | OCTOBER 30, 2014 5:00 AM

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With an upbeat, atypical jazz sound and a heavy emphasis on improvisation, the SpokFrevo Orquestra has all the ingredients of a great Brazilian street band.

However, this 18-piece ensemble has taken the “boiling” frevo sound from the streets of Pernambuco to the world stage — including the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St. Hancher will host SpokFrevo at 7:30 p.m. today; tickets cost between $10 and $30.

Brazilian saxophonist and composer Inaldo Cavalcante de Albuquerque — better known as Spok or Maestro Spok — is the conductor of the orchestra, and he has lent his name to the group’s title. The second part of the name, frevo, is an African-inspired rhythmic sound developed about 100 years ago in Pernambuco, Brazil, to celebrate Carnival, a festival before Lent similar to Mardi Gras in the United States, only on steroids. Spok’s group plays the percussion-heavy frevo de rua genre.

“Frevo’s origin is very similar to jazz’s,” said Carol Ferreira, manager of the Spokfrevo Orquestra. “The formation of the frevo orchestras is basically the same as the American big bands … frevo is a genre that existed for people to dance.”

Hancher Programming Director Jacob Yarrow said the SpokFrevo Orquestra fits the venue’s commitment to present artists from various countries and cultures.

“There are lots of different parts of the world that we have not had the chance to see …” Yarrow said. “As you get more experience with different art from different parts of the world, you can get more granular in your knowledge about what comes exactly from what exact places.”

Yarrow said he believes Iowa City audiences will be receptive to frevo.

“This is an art of music that has wide ranging appeal, that is accessible and fun …” he said. “And it’s remarkable, it’s virtuosic, it’s fast, it’s high energy, it’s a lot of fun basically.”

Part of the band’s energy comes from their improvised numbers, a practice Ferreira said is not in the tradition of frevo.

“[Improvisation] was not welcome by most of the conductors and composers,” she said. “We started to open more space for that with the SpokFrevo Orquestra, so the musicians would have more liberty to express themselves through improvising.”

Though the band hopes to set itself apart from the jazz genre, jazz-guitarist Steve Grismore of the University of Iowa Jazz Department said improvisation is an impressive skill in any context.

“The most challenging part of improvisation is learning the language,” he said. “It takes time, a lot of listening, and much practice or experience to get there, and even then, you are never really done learning. The most rewarding part is being able to communicate and share your feelings to an audience and/or your fellow musicians in real time.”

While events such as the Iowa Jazz Festival and Soul Festival has acquainted local audiences with a variety of jazz performers — many brought by Hancher — Director of Marketing and Communications for Hancher Rob Cline said SpokFrevo sets itself apart.

“This is an opportunity to hear something outside of what you hear every day but is presented in a way that is a little more familiar,” Cline said. “It’s a way to expand your understanding of world music traditions. And also to see these traditions interact with music you understand. So this is a great opportunity to go to a concert in which you know you’re going to have a great time, but you’re also going to hear something you don’t usually hear on a day-to-day basis.”

Cline said he is excited about Hancher audiences experiencing a type of music usually reserved for parades and festivals nearly 5,000 miles away.

“This frevo music is a sort of street music in Brazil, so it doesn’t really have a home on a traditional stage,” Cline said. “What Spok has done and his band has done is take that musical tradition and incorporate elements of jazz and Latin jazz and serving a hybrid form that is suited for the stage. And it allows him and his band to share it with a widespread audience.”


MUSIC

SpokFrevo Orquestra, hosted by Hancher
Where: Englert, 221 E. Washington
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Admission: Tickets cost between $10 and $30


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