Egberto Gismonti guitars, piano, flutes, dilruba, voice
Nana Vasconcelos percussion, berimbau, voice
Recorded June 1984 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Sometimes I wonder. I wonder what forces were at work to have brought two brilliant music makers like Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos together on this earth. I wonder what energies nourish their spirits any time the two of them step into the studio, alone or otherwise. I also wonder how a surefire recipe for continued enchantment could come out of the oven as this misshapen improvisation session from 1984. Neither musician has ever needed a definitive structure around which to coil his respective song in order to be captivating (just listen to, for example, the breadth of freedom in Gismonti’s Solo or Vasconcelos’s Saudades), but during the first few steps of Duas Vozes I find myself craving it. It’s not that the images painted therein aren’t unique, only that the colors with which they are painted simply don’t blend. Thus is the album’s first half the backside of a one-way mirror: we can see through its devices, even if the microphones can’t. Thankfully, in the latter half we come face to face with a reflection that shows us only the depth of our awe.
Our first confusions arise in “Aquarela Do Brasil,” which begins playfully enough, but quickly degrades into six long minutes of Vasconcelos’s whooping (compare his sparing use thereof on “Carneval Of The Four”). “Rio De Janeiro” also breaks its promise when, after the lively pulse that opens it, Gismonti’s guitar wanders in circles without ever enlarging any of them. And while much of this sounds like outtakes between jam sessions, there are some flashes of brilliance in which these longtime friends explore insanely microscopic avenues of their craft, particularly during a passage for which Gismonti plays the little strings at top of his instrument. The cavernous flute of “Tomarapeba” opens the portal just a little more, as do Vasconcelos’s calls from the treetops in “Dancado.”
It isn’t until “Fogueira” that we get something undeniably special, something far beyond what I would already have expected. Its balance of restraint and full-out effusiveness blossoms with a Ralph Towner-like sensibility, Vasconcelos adding masterful color all the while. With this, the portal is thrown open, letting in the floodlights that are “Bianca” and “Don Quixote.” In the latter, Vasconcelos’s insectile tongue-fluttering adds the perfect environmental touch, even as Gismonti unveils his piano for a final stretch of droning brilliance.
For an album that is only half the masterpiece it could have been, how it ever came to be included in ECM’s Touchstones series would seem unwarranted were it not for its destination. But even if we aren’t quite sure about how it gets there, Duas Vozes is worth your attention for that destination alone.