Live reviews

REVIEW: José Neto and the Netoband at Ronnie Scott’s

L-R: Gary Brown, Jose Neto and Celso Alberti at Ronnie Scott’s
Photo credit and © Steven Cropper /

José Neto and the Netoband 
(Ronnie Scott’s. 2 March 2019. First House. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The last time I saw and heard José Neto, he was about 300 yards away. It was last summer in Hyde Park, and he was playing in Stevie Winwood’s band (REVIEW). But even at that distance, his mastery, versatility and complete and easeful musicianship left their mark on me. So the opportunity to hear him on his own terms and at much closer quarters was very appealing.

Neto’s career in super fast-forward: Born 1954 Sao Paulo. Classical guitar studies. To the US in 1978 on a student visa. Two weeks at Berklee; it wasn’t right for him: “I was really ready to play, to gig, I needed to work, and I needed to make a living.” Move to New York. From 1979 guitarist and Music Director for Harry Belafonte for three decades. Long-term association with Airto Moreira/ Flora Purim. Now 18 years in Steve Winwood’s band. Settled in the small town of Fairfax in Northern California since the 1980s.

And there are a couple of Ronnie’s-related backstories too: drummer Jim Capaldi was jamming there with Moreira and Neto one day in 1995, and it was he who insisted that Winwood should hear Neto. And Ronnie’s was also where, in 1990, classical guitarist Forbes Henderson gave Neto the Paradis guitar that he still plays (“I think this instrument was made for you, not for me.”) However, although Neto’s association with Frith Street does indeed go back a long way, Saturday night was, in fact, his first appearance there since 2007.

Neto had come from the last of the Winwood shows as support for Steely Dan, in Dublin, and the three other members of his regular band had all come straight from California. This is the ultimate well-honed band. Airto Moreira has talked about the joyous way that Neto “locks in” to a band, and that is also the tone that he sets as bandleader. Attempts to glean a set list were futile, these guys just go on and play. The repertoire is unfailingly melodic/singable, the range of moods and textures and ways of ratcheting it all up and down quite mesmerising. It manages to be sophisticated, appealing and yet never over-clever or over-busy.

Jose Neto
Photo credit and © Steven Cropper /

I find Neto’s playing, his control of sound, his way of shaping a phrase and making it stand out against what is going on around him irresistible. He gets on with the business of communicating joy and new melodic ideas as if he has an inexhaustible supply of both. I felt very grateful when it came to his quieter moments for the successful efforts of persuasion that a member of the Ronnie’s staff had made to quieten down a rowdy Saturday night table.

Fellow Brazilian-Califrummer Celso Alberti‘s darting eyes track everything that is going on, and it is not just momentum he provides, he has an astonishing grasp of pitch and timbre. I was not in the least surprised to learn later that he is in demand as a producer. Gary Brown on six-string-bass is constant shadow and foil for Neto. They amuse, provoke, cajole, chase each other. And Frank Martin provides all kinds of magical textures and surprises from the keyboards.

Celso Alberti
Photo credit and © Steven Cropper /

There were Winwood and Airto Moreira (and Ronnie’s) connections with the support set too.  Saxophonist Paul Booth won a competition organised by Ronnie Scott and Pete King as a 17-year-old, and his prize was the opportunity to sit in at the club with Airto Moreira. It was to prove life-changing for him. Neto and Booth are fellow members of Stevie Winwood’s band (Booth has now been in it for 13 years) and Neto invited the saxophonist on for a storming performance of Secrets from the Winwood album Nine Lives on which they both play.

Booth’s quartet featured Ross Stanley (on the same keyboard Frank Martin was about to play, but set up as a piano), Dave Whitford on bass and Andrew Bain on drums. The centrepiece of their set was a fast version of the standard Secret Love. Ross Stanley’s solo in that song was fabulous. His way of making his mark was for the top of every chorus to be a new-minted, unexpected and completely different fresh page. It was like a series of happy revelations. Memorable.

LINKS: A good example of the Netoband in action: Fairfax, California, 2009 A film bio-pic of José Neto has recently been completed

Categories: Live reviews

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