Naná Vasconcelos, a Brazilian percussionist whose stylistic daring and freewheeling experimentalism made him a sought-after collaborator with artists as varied as the Argentine jazz saxophonist Gato Barbieri and the Talking Heads, died on Wednesday in Recife, Brazil. He was 71.
Mr. Vasconcelos became prominent in Brazil in the 1960s as a master of the berimbau, a bow with a steel string and resonating gourd that is played by striking the string with a baton. Mr. Barbieri heard him playing with the singer and songwriter Milton Nascimento and invited him to join his band on a European tour in 1970 that began with the Montreux Jazz Festival.
The exposure made Mr. Vasconcelos an international star. A protean, adventurous performer, he advanced constantly into new territory and unexpected collaborations.
He made several highly acclaimed albums with the Brazilian guitarist, pianist and composer Egberto Gismonti, notably “Saudades” (1980), on which the Stuttgart Radio Symphony provided backup. He also did memorable work as a member of the cooperative jazz trio Codona, with the trumpeter Don Cherry and the sitar and tabla player Collin Walcott, and with the Pat Metheny Group.
For eight straight years, from 1983 to 1990, Mr. Vasconcelos was voted the world’s best percussionist in the DownBeat magazine critics’ poll.
Juvenal de Holanda Vasconcelos was born on Aug. 2, 1944, in Recife. He was given the nickname Naná by a grandmother. By age 12 he was performing in a band led by his father, a guitarist, and in the city’s marching band. He quickly mastered the full range of Brazilian percussion instruments, but by the late 1960s he was focusing on the berimbau.
In 1973 he recorded his first album as a leader, “Africadeus,” in Paris, where he lived after touring with Mr. Barbieri. He often performed his music for patients at a children’s psychiatric hospital in Paris as a form of therapy.
After recording his second album, “Amazonas,” in Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Vasconcelos entered into a long-running collaboration with Mr. Gismonti before joining the Pat Metheny Group as a singer and percussionist in 1981. He recorded several albums with Mr. Metheny, including “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls” (1981), on which Mr. Metheny and Lyle Mays, the Pat Metheny Group keyboardist, were jointly credited as leaders.
“He took things a step further, using his voice together with his instrument and with my instruments,” Mr. Mays told Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha, the authors of “The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil” (1991). “Naná broadened our soundscape, and he added charisma.”
In a statement on his website, Mr. Metheny said, “As I moved towards using more and more electricity in the music, I really felt it was important to balance that with natural sound, and Naná was able to offer that in a perfect way.”
On the 1983 album “Zumbi,” Mr. Vasconcelos became a one-man orchestra, layering his own vocal sounds atop one another and coaxing percussive sounds from his own body.
Around the same time, he became interested in break dancing and drum machines. After modifying a drum machine so that he could perform on it rather than program it, he toured Europe with a group of break dancers from the South Bronx. In the late 1980s, he ventured into funk with his band Bush Dance.
He provided percussion for the track “Perfect World” on the Talking Heads album “Little Creatures” in 1985 and was a vocalist and percussionist on several tracks of the Paul Simon album “The Rhythm of the Saints” in 1990.
Mr. Vasconcelos is survived by his wife, Patricia. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.
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