Egberto Gismonti: Arvore (CARMO/1)


Egberto Gismonti

Egberto Gismonti piano, guitars, wood flutes, percussion, voice
Paolo Moura saxophone
Novelli Lobo bass
Edson Lobo bass
Tenório Jr. electric piano
Ion Muniz flute
Engineers: Dacy and Toninho
Produced by Geraldo Eduardo Carneiro
Release date: May 1, 1991

Because the dream was ending
When the day was breaking
On the mirror
One felt the dread of this dead taste
Of the past
Sunk into memory

And with that, let us throw open a curtain to the fantastical world of Brazilian composer/multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti (and associated acts), as documented on the ECM-distributed CARMO label. CARMO is named after the small Brazilian town where he was born in 1947. Gismonti grew up classically trained and studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Jean Barraqué. It was Boulanger who famously encouraged him to look deep into the soul of the musical traditions he grew up with, and with that endorsement he returned home, where he taught himself guitar and built augmented guitars of his own design with more than the standard six strings.

Originally released as a self-titled album in 1973 on the Odeon label and reissued here as the inaugural CARMO release in 1991, Arvore (Portuguese for “tree,” hence the cover) sets precedent for an idiosyncratic blend of folk, classical, and jazz influences. This ambitious early project meshes Gismonti’s talents on piano, guitar, wood flutes, percussion, and voice with those of a small core ensemble, a string orchestra conducted by Mario Tavares, and a choir conducted by Gismonti himself.

Something of a theatrical song cycle sans stage, its initial stirrings flip between spoken word and singing, chambered regressions and expansive extroversions. Like everything that follows, this music creates as much context as it describes. Encounters of anthropological idealism share borders with colonial prophecies and the physical (yet voiceless) landscapes that predate all human contact. Encounters with cannibalism and other perceived injustices to the human spirit engage in subtle warfare with Judeo-Christian morality, as if the outcome might determine the direction of global tides.

So begins a mosaiced examination of fertile ideas, as each track delineates its own continent of psychosomatic activity. In “Memória E Fado” (Memory and Fate), one of Gismonti’s most beautiful constructions to date, we encounter a song of shouting skin and the heritages whispering within it. The two-part “Academia De Dança” (a name he would later adopt for his core ensemble of musicians) sets up a haunting composition for strings and soprano saxophone that bleeds into the dream of “Tango,” a swirling piano solo of shining three-dimensionality.

The album’s remainder spins an emotional color wheel. Its first stop is on the bossa nova of “Encontro No Bar” (Meeting in the Bar), in which Gismonti sings of the bar as “a funeral parlor” where candles flicker and forgotten spirits seek respite from their fate. Wooden flutes and women’s voices imply an immaterial world that overlaps with our downtrodden own. Next is the swath of cinematic joy that is “Adágio,” which at first sounds like something out of Michael Nyman’s soundtrack for The Piano, then executes a distinctly Brazilian change of costume. The dreamier journey of “Variações Sobre Um Tema De Léo Brouwer” crashes on the shores of its own disinterest in destinations, while the guitar and percussion of “Salvador” presage Gismonti’s collaboration with Nana Vasconcelos a decade later.

In addition to his technical and compositional abilities, Gismonti is a master craftsman of atmosphere. Such variety, connected by an unwavering commitment to the moment, is rare and makes Gismonti worthy of occupying this orbit in the ECM solar system, satellites and all.

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