Egberto Gismonti piano, electric piano, organ, guitar, flute, voice
Mauro Senise saxophones, flute
Roberto Silva drums, percussion
Luiz Alvez acoustic bass
L. Shankar violin
Silvio Mehry piano
Piry Reys guitar
Aleuda voice, percussion
Dulce Bressane voice
Pepe Castro Neves voice
Conductor: Benito Juarez
Engineers: Serginho and Toninho
Mixing: Nivaldo Duarte
Producer: Mariozinho Rocha
Executive producer: Egberto Gismonti
Release date: May 1, 1991
Circense may just be to Egberto Gismonti what The Köln Concert is to Keith Jarrett. Not in any stylistic sense, but only insofar as it has come to define the career of its singular creator. Originally released in 1980 on EMI and reissued as the second CARMO release in 1991, this circus-themed extravaganza features some of Brazil’s most highly regarded musicians and was included in Rolling Stone Brazil’s Top 100 Brazilian albums of all time.
In light of the above, it’s only natural that the session should kick off with one of the leader’s most enduring compositions, “Karatê,” which in its first recorded iteration shows off studied moves with close-eyed conviction. Roberto Silva’s drumming is a flurry of deftly executed kicks and punches, each of which Gismonti blocks and parries with his guitar. Mauro Senise on soprano saxophone elicits sheer joy as Gismonti switches from electric piano to acoustic. It’s the sonic equivalent of watching a circus tent being set up in fast-forward. It’s also genius.
“Cego Aderaldo” switches things up with an unexpected cameo by classical Indian violinist L. Shankar, who had a remarkable decade-long run on ECM. This song tells the story of the titular blind poet (1878-1967), who legendarily roamed the northeastern hinterlands of Brazil armed only with a guitar and his gift for rhyme. Not that one would know this backstory from the music itself, which combines guitars, electric violin, and tabla to raga-like effect. Shankar’s solo is a thoughtful dive inward, grabbing a thread of worldly concern as a lifeline back to reality should this fantasy prove too much to handle. His virtuosity is self-generating and magical. The latter comes out in the vocal-enhanced watercolors of “Mágico,” another touchstone of Gismonti’s oeuvre that awakens like a dreamer into another dream and hints at his groundbreaking project with saxophonist Jan Garbarek and bassist Charlie Haden.
Piano, soprano saxophone, and drums join forces in “Palhaço.” Nestled in the sounds of children at play, it luxuriates in sunshine. Even brighter is the romping “Tá Boa, Santa?” Flutes give it a youthful and folk-ish sound, while bassist Luiz Alvez makes good on every last minute of daylight. The party continues in “Equilibrista.” Here soprano saxophone and bass court each other like birds of the rainforest. After the twilit ballad of “Ciranda,” which drips like rain from those same leaves, “Mais Que Paixão” (More Than Passion) expands and contracts the lungs in farewell.
There’s really nothing else quite like this album. It must be heard to be believed.