Egberto Gismonti guitars, surdo, piano, cooking bells, voice
Recorded November 1978 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
The prolific output of Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti is only partially represented on ECM. Thankfully, what we do have on the label is among his most captivating work, and perhaps none more so than this adroit solo set from the late seventies. By the time he recorded Solo Gismonti had already honed his distinctions to a fine polish in smaller group settings, in particular with his longstanding partner, percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. Drawing from a wealth of inspirations ranging from Maurice Ravel and Django Reinhardt, Gismonti’s is an ever-morphing tapestry of melody and often modest virtuosity.
The sun rises on Solo through the 20-minute “Selva Amazonica, Pau Rolou,” by which Gismonti plants us into his fertile imagination. From that imagination we eventually depart with only the merest glimpses, despite the protracted track times. The opening suite is replete with resonant 8-string guitar and the floating charm of his wordless singing. Touches such as the latter add hints of remembrance, sealing a child’s proverbial innocence with an adult’s creative stamp. Across this steel-stringed landscape Gismonti imprints the tread of the surdo (a bass drum of African origin), then settles into a pre-dawn hymn against a wavering backdrop of cooking bells. A later track, “Salvador,” focuses these same energies into a single guitar, also tailed by a song to the skies. Two piano pieces along the way—“Ano Zero” and “Frevo”—showcase Gismonti’s melodic fragility in even more humbling terms. Through these, he works his augury by less persistent memories. The results fall barely shy of Keith Jarrett at his spirited best. Sunset arrives with the parabolic “Ciranda Nordestina.” After an introductory half-dream in bells, a gentle piano stains us with grand swaths of color, each an emotion in smoke. With every gemstone reaped from the earth, we pursue the rays of light passing through them to their cosmic ends.
As high as his group projects climb, I always prefer the earthiness of Gismonti alone. Perhaps the best place to start any musical journey is with a single guide at your side, and this role he seems more than willing to fulfill.