Egberto Gismonti: Saudações (ECM 2082/83)


Egberto Gismonti

Camerata Romeu
Zenaida Romeu conductor
Alexandre Gismonti guitar
Egberto Gismonti guitar
“Sertões Veredas”
Recorded August 2006, Teatro Amadeo Roldán, Havana
Engineer: Jerzy Belc
Assistant:  Argeo Roque Bernabeu
“Duetos De Violões”
Recorded April and May 2007, Mega Studio and Cecília Meireles Hall, Rio de Janeiro
Engineer: Márcio Gama
Assistant: Guthemberg Pereira
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

Saudações, of which the title means “salutations,” marks the welcome end of a 12-year ECM hiatus for Egberto Gismonti since 1997’s Meeting Point. Whereas on that record he explored his conservatory training in a set of lively orchestral compositions with Gismonti as piano soloist, the first of this two-disc follow-up consists of Sertões Veredas, a suite in seven parts for strings alone, while the second disc features guitar duets and solos with the composer’s son Alexandre.

Seasoned Gismonti listeners will know what to expect from the program’s latter half. In addition to renditions of classic tunes, including “Lundú,” “Dança Dos Escravos,” and “Zig Zag”—each a bouquet of nimble, sparkling exposition—the duo soars through a veritable résumé of Father Gismonti’s uniquely tender ferocity. From subdued (“Mestiço & Caboclo”) to slipstream (“Dois Violões”), the performances emit a veritable brocade of fire. Alexandre contributes two solos to the program: the gentle, cyclical “Palhaço” (by Egberto) and the original “Chora Antônio.” Alexandre’s animations make them both album must-hears. After a few jagged turns, notably in “Dança,” Egberto ends by his lonesome with the title track, an adroit little bee of a tune that settles in a flower of harmonics.

Gismonti & Son play with freedom of detail, all the while holding fast to an underlying pulse that distinguishes so much of Egberto’s writing. Concentrated as they are, any one of these pieces might expand to an album’s length without loss of potency. In a sense, this is the feeling behind the orchestral suite that begins the album. As always, Gismonti paints a world proper, a landscape of vivid memories, childhood impressions, and mature reflections—all tied together by a love for his homeland and its peoples. Subtitled as a “Tribute to Miscegenation” (Tributo à miscigenação) and played with vivaciousness by Cuba’s Camerata Romeu, it is a heartfelt tribute to—and preservation of—times and places clearly dear to him, all intermingling in a new continent.

The cornucopia of influences from which he has drawn is already apparent in the first movement, of which the spirit remains very much rooted in the composer’s guitaristic panache (even his pianism, heard elsewhere, turns the keyboard into an enormous, fretted instrument). More than the instrument’s mechanics, its immediate tactility carries over into the scores, which sound like magnified string quartets. Gismonti’s attention to the orchestra’s lower end is especially robust, the double basses providing pulse, melodic undertow, and soil for botanical riches above ground. The occasional cello line acts as a link between dynamic extremes, leaving the violins to pollinate, as they will. Each movement is a suite of its own, moving from high to low, slow to fast, loud to soft in a heartbeat. The most obvious references are to Stravinsky (Part IV), John Adams’s Shaker Loops (Part V), and even the romantic touch of a Mendelssohn (Part VI), leaving the final part, an ode to folk traditions and dances, to bask in the resolution of camaraderie.

Speaking of attention, Saudações is recorded with just the right balance of intimacy and mountainous space. Peak slope into a valley of riches, each more scintillating than the last. A treasure trove for Gismonti fans. Even more so for newcomers. Either way: leave your shoes at the perimeter and step into the circle as you are.

Charlie Haden/Egberto Gismonti: In Montreal (ECM 1746)

In Montreal

Charlie Haden
Egberto Gismonti
In Montreal

Charlie Haden double-bass
Egberto Gismonti guitar, piano
Recorded July 6, 1989, Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, Salle Marie-Gérin-Lajoie, Université du Québec
Recorded by La Chaîne culturelle de Radio-Canada
Recording and mixing engineers: Alain Chénier and Michel Larivière
Editing and mastering: Denis Leclerc
Recording and mixing producer: Daniel Vachon
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

Twelve years after it was recorded at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, this landmark performance by legendary American bassist Charlie Haden and Brazilian guitarist-pianist Egberto Gismonti at last saw the light of day in 2001. The concert marks the sixth of eight organized by the festival in celebration of Haden’s ongoing legacy. Haden had plenty of experience playing with Gismonti as part of their Magico trio with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, yet the distillations offered here are entirely of another plane.

From the Magico songbook the duo plays “Palhaço” (a trio staple by Gismonti), as well as the Haden-penned “Silence.” Both feature Gismonti’s astonishing pianism, balancing florid biospheres with ponderous asides, Haden all the while drafting the terms of endearment by which every page turns. Haden the composer also reveals the set’s deepest piece: “First Song.” Featuring Gismonti on acoustic guitar, its intuition soars for all its quietude. A pleasant street scene, a childhood memory, a favorite scent in the air…exchanging glances in a melodic triangle. Such trade-offs mark the session for its selfless ingenuity. So, too, the jangly undercurrents of opener “Salvador” and “Em Familia,” both of which reference Gismonti’s work with Academia de Danças and, as such, reflect a bold unity of purpose. The latter’s invigoration grabs scruffs and throws us skyward, even as it gives us wings to fly. And fly we do into quiet pockets of cloud, each the eye of a storm where the leaves barely tremble to the tune of Gismonti’s masterful harmonics. Also notably from the Academia repertoire are “Maracatú,” a study in contrasts, and “Frevo,” in which pointillism at the piano inspires dramatic, resonant depths from Gismonti’s partner. “Don Quixote” (previously featured on Duas Vozes with percussionist Nana Vasconcelos) closes with an elegy-turned-anthem, a shifting ocean of temperate love.

Although there is much to admire in Gismonti’s prodigious guitar playing, it’s at the piano where his musicality truly shines. How wonderful to get so much of it here. And no bassist crafts melodies quite like Haden. He keeps the earth in mind, even when there is nothing but sky ahead of us, scaling the ladder from light to dark and back to light while Gismonti filigrees his playing like a frame around a picture. In Montreal is a must-have for fans of these unique talents, who together forge a distinctly “global” sound: not world music, but music for the world.

Garbarek/Gismonti/Haden: Magico – Carta de Amor (ECM 2280/81)

Magico – Carta de Amor

Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Egberto Gismonti guitars, piano
Charlie Haden double-bass
Recorded live April 1981, Amerika Haus, München
Recording engineer: Martin Wieland, Tonstudio Bauer
Mixed 2011 at Rainbow Studio by Jan Erik Konghaug and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“I know that the stars when I vanish will remain pegged way up there, fixed, immutable, gazing on the absurd hustle and bustle of men, small and ridiculous, striving with each other during the sole second of life allotted them to learn and to know about themselves, wasting it stupidly, killing one another, the ones fighting to avert exploitation by the others.”
–Dolores Ibárruri

2012 has seen quite the magic act of releases from ECM’s archives. The encore comes literally so in the case of Magico: Carta de Amor, as the trio of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti, and bassist Charlie Haden takes the stage in newly restored 1981 performances at Munich’s Amerika Haus, host to such classic recordings as Ralph Towner’s Solo Concert and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Urban Bushmen. From their studio work, these three mavericks draw a distinct blend of signatures, while from the two years spent touring prior to this recording they accomplish feats of improvisation that perhaps no studio could have induced or contained.

Bookended by two versions of Gismonti’s title track, a beautiful love letter indeed to the wonders within, Haden’s 16.5-minute tribute to Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionaria,” lends substance to the feathers in between. The entrance of bass is as effortless as it is invisible, dropping into the foreground as it does from the line of Garbarek’s ornamental reed. Changing his Liberation Music Orchestra clothing for something more romantic, Haden offers “All That Is Beautiful” (making its first appearance on record), an emotionally epic vehicle for Gismonti, who takes seat at the keyboard and sprinkles it with clouds and weighted dew.

If these are the tire tracks left behind, then “Cego Aderaldo” is the vehicle that left them. Driven by the 12 focused strings of its composer, it keeps us balanced along the album’s craggiest terrain. Here Garbarek does something wondrous as he opens the passenger-side door and jumps over the cliff, spreading burnished metal wings across a landscape that welcomes his flight with thermals galore. Gismonti continues on, spiraling up to the apex. There he plants not a flag of conquest, but seeds of thanksgiving. From the dulcet “Branquinho,” with its distant ideas of brotherhood, to the shining reprise of “Palhaço,” his fulfilling melodies bring out the playful best in Garbarek. If there were ever any doubts about the group’s unity, let “Don Quixote” stand as Exhibit A toward quelling them. Like the novel for which it is named, it is a critique of belittlement and insincerity in a society gone mad. It moves at the leisurely pace of a mule whose grandeur resides not without but within.

Garbarek gives us a triangle of stars, including folk song arrangements that whistle through dynamic peaks and valleys and a fully opened rendition of “Spor” (compare this to its infancy in the studio on Magico). To this mysterious canvas, Garbarek applies shadow on shadow, seeking out wounds of color in the language of his band mates before diving into repose.

(Photos by Ralph Quinke)

While the unity expressed by these musicians is surely enthralling, it comes closest to perfection in the monologues. Garbarek’s energy is, if I may appropriate a Douglas Hofstadter subtitle, an eternal golden braid—one that nourishes itself on the light of which it is made, self-replicating and beyond the measure of value. Haden unfolds themes fractally. Trundling through empty streets with dog-eared book in hand and love in its margins, he brings closure to uprisings of the heart. Gismonti, for his part, is as breath is to lungs.

Let their individuality inspire you to action.

(To hear samples from Carta de Amor, click here.)

Egberto Gismonti: Meeting Point (ECM 1586)

Egberto Gismonti
Meeting Point

Egberto Gismonti piano
Gintaras Rinkevicius conductor
Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra
Recorded June 1995, Vilnius
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

If any title could sum up the ECM aesthetic in two words, it is Meeting Point. This disc features the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Gintaras Rinkevicius, playing the music of Egberto Gismonti, who also acts as soloist. Having studied under Jean Barraqué and Nadia Boulanger in Paris, the multitalented Brazilian musician and composer puts his conservatory training into effect on this program of seven pieces. Of these, the diptych “Strawa no Sertão” is the shortest, making for a rollicking introduction that bustles like a market square, threading between fruit stands and children’s laughter. The nocturnal dances of “Música para Cordas” provide much-needed contrast to its surroundings, setting up a lively arrangement of “Frevo” (first heard on Sanfona). Gismonti now appears at the keyboard, adding urgency to this orchestral milieu. Interjections from horns burst onto the page like punctuation marks, while the flutes draw erasable underlines. The piano’s function as percussion instrument is further emphasized in the romping “A Pedrinha Cai.” It runs through that same market with stall prize clutched in hand, ending with that first sweet bite. Yet the most personal voice emerges in “Eterna,” for which a romantic solo violin blows like a summer breeze and breaks the orchestra down into the intimacy of a string quartet. Thus prepared for the roiling sea of a re-imagined “Música de Sobrevivencia,” we puzzle our way through brine and wisps of cloud, each blind to the other except through Gismonti’s overwhelming desire to communicate.

Though I wouldn’t recommend Meeting Point as your first Gismonti experience, one should never bypass the lungs on the way to the heart, for here is a breath of ineluctable brilliance, teaching, and careful thought.

Egberto Gismonti Trio: ZigZag (ECM 1582)

Egberto Gismonti

Egberto Gismonti 10 & 14-string guitars, piano
Nando Carneiro guitar, synthesizer
Zeca Assumpção double-bass
Recorded April 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Six original compositions from Egberto Gismonti comprise this, his 14th effort for ECM. Having already honed a broader sound in recordings like Música de Sobrevivência and Infância, for ZigZag the Brazilian virtuoso set his fingers dancing in the company of fellow guitarist Nando Carneiro (retained from the above two sessions) and bassist Zeca Assumpção. The absence of Jacques Morelenbaum changes the sound colors significantly. One might very well miss the cellist’s fluid presence were it not for the distinct quality of the music presented here, which is of such a different stripe that it elides comparison. The trio meshes so well that it becomes one large stringed instrument, such that by the second track, “Mestiço & Caboclo,” we are convinced of something profoundly shared. A kiss of whimsy deepens it that much more. Here, as in “Orixás,” Assumpção is the emotional maypole around which Gismonti and Carneiro twine their ribbons, the pen of a love letter in a hand familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a moment’s quiet contemplation. After the jagged defenestration of “Carta De Amor,” perhaps best expressing the album’s title, the group leader moves from fretboard to keyboard for “Um Anjo” in an arresting duet with bass. The nostalgia here is palpable, with enough left over for “Forrobodó,” in which orchestral accents from synthesizer add italics to an already bold text.

The beauty of this spirited recording is that, though it may not evoke the sights and sounds of our home, it welcomes us as if they were.

Egberto Gismonti Group: Música de Sobrevivência (ECM 1509)

Egberto Gismonti Group
Música de Sobrevivência

Egberto Gismonti piano, guitar, flute
Nando Carneiro synthesizers, guitar, caxixi
Zeca Assumpção bass, rainwood
Jacques Morelenbaum cello, bottle
Recorded April 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

One can always look forward to a fresh experience with every Egberto Gismonti encounter. This promise is deeply fulfilled on Música de Sobrevivência (Music of Survival), which designates the title of his group’s sophomore ECM outing as much as it does the genre under which it creates. The opening arpeggios of “Carmem” earn our trust at once with a timeworn and familiar comfort. The pebbles of Gismonti’s plunking notes sink into nostalgic waters, pulled by arco threads into the hands of light that loosed them. “Bianca” picks at those same threads, frayed like the edge of a carpet in a childhood home through which pass only the ghosts of revolt. Such backward glances are ever-present in Gismonti’s world, whether they are charting the skyward paths of “Lundú #2” or dancing with joy in “Alegrinho #2.” His fingers flutter across piano keys as adeptly as they walk a fingerboard, escorting the group’s cultured sound through a gallery of moods. Children’s feet map the gray streets of “Forró,” cracked yet held in shape like the shells of hardboiled eggs, and continue to run through “Natura, festa do interior,” a 33.5-minute masterpiece of eroded landscapes. With a sweep as cinematic as it is prosaic, it inscribes a scroll’s worth of love for all things just and familial.

The group members blend like a metal alloy, each a shade of bark in the same forest, with cellist Jacques Morelenbaum adding notable fire to Gismonti’s cool motives. The result is a sonic scrapbook of travels and shades of innocence guaranteed to enrich your listening life.

Egberto Gismonti Group: Infância (ECM 1428)

Egberto Gismonti Group

Egberto Gismonti piano, guitars
Nando Carneiro synthesizers, guitar
Zeca Assumpção bass
Jacques Morelenbaum cello
Recorded November 1990 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Egberto Gismonti cuts a fascinating figure, even among ECM’s already populous roster. The Brazilian multi-instrumentalist never fails to delight with his nostalgic mix of folk and personal melodic elements. In this sense, the opening “Ensaio de escola de samba (Dança dos Escravos)” is emblematic. Combining the Ralph Towner-like flurry of his guitar with bass and cello (the latter courtesy of Jacques Morelenbaum, of Morelenbaumfame) riding musical waves into an oncoming storm, we visualize a deep and colorful ocean. Gismonti’s pianism is even more inspiring. His sound—every bit as lush as Keith Jarrett’s—levels the playing field in the carnivalesque of “7 Anéis” and in the lushness of “A fala da paixão,” throughout which he pulls the past through the sky like a thread through a needle. He is joined by a cello’s comet and distant supernovas of bass for an ascent toward blissful stillness.

“Meninas” finds Gismonti in ghosted form, providing both the pianistic scenography and the raindrop guitar that populates its stage. Bass and cello continue stringing their pearls, moving in gusts and pauses like the wind. The title track floats a cello over a Steve Reichean ostinato. One finds also a Chick Corea exuberance at play here, both in the sparkling musicianship and in the writing. Some turns from synth add a darker side to this bright memory. “Recife & O amor que move o sol e outras estrelas” then offers a chance to hear Gismonti’s skills at the keyboard in fuller bloom. This track is yet another sparkling jewel, theatrical and full of contrast. We close with two dances for guitar and cello, invigorating and prickling the sunset like a silhouetted cactus, and joins its playful dissonances to the calls of children at play.

This album shows the maturity of Gismonti’s writing, his evolution as melody-maker and musician. This huge slice of life treads its past as might a youth through a jar of marbles, picking out only those clearest and most aesthetically pleasing to click among the rest.

Egberto Gismonti: Dança dos Escravos (ECM 1387)

Egberto Gismonti
Dança dos Escravos

Egberto Gismonti guitars
Recorded November 1988 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

When I first heard Egberto Gismonti’s Dança dos Escravos (Dance of the Slaves) it had been months since I’d listened to the Brazilian master, and the feeling of being wrapped in his brilliant passion again was a joy to say the least, for in his comforting embrace I can always far more than a gesture to relate to. Although he is an adept multi-instrumentalist, I’ve always felt that Gismonti excels alone at the guitar, and you will not likely find a purer distillation of his art than this. The 15-minute title track constitutes the album’s lungs, through which Gismonti respires in concise autobiographical detail. Upon waking, it hits the ground running, flipping space as if through the pages of a well-weathered book into which a photographic record has been pasted. The glue becomes brittle and flakes the farther one goes back, and though images have loosened their grip on the past Gismonti rescues them with every unexpected turn in his playing. There are moments when he seems to time-travel, his fingers working independently yet with an orchestral unity so personal that even when he adds a 12-string it seems but an extension of the same instrument.

“Dança dos Escravos” bears the subtitle “black,” and Gismonti has accordingly designated every track its own color. Red is represented by the enthralling opener, “2 Violões.” From jubilant to regretful, he cycles through a youth’s worth of faded dreams and unrequited loves. It is one of his best and in it we find the intimacies of his craft overflowing in full disclosure. Moving on to blue in “Lundu,” he plows through a cycle so engaging that he cannot help but let out an mm of ecstatic communion with his instrument. That same voice comes out more intentionally in the green (“Trenzinho do Caipira”) and in the white (“Salvador”), uncovering in both the playful spirit that lurks in the interstices of his memories. It is as if he were standing on the center of a seesaw, at one end of which is the weight of the future and at the other sits the child-self thereof. Gismonti pares his abstractions to their hearts, working them into the traditional yellow ornaments of “Alegrinho.” Here he shares a fleeting portrait of the streets (and of the trees not so far away). We encounter open markets and the patter of boys’ feet between stalls as they snatch fruits and life experience from the tables.

There is something indescribably authentic (whatever currency that word may have nowadays) about Gismonti’s music. Listen, for instance, to the burnished brown of “Memoria e Fado” and hear within it a thousand voices, each having fed into this one musical utterance and of which said utterance will one day become a part of the growing chorus to inspire those in the future. It is through this music that one steps outside into the night, looks up at the stars, and thinks not confoundedly, but rather forgoes philosophy, content in knowing that its mysteries are life itself. These are shadows made bright again.

Egberto Gismonti/Nana Vasconcelos: Duas Vozes (ECM 1279)


Duas Vozes

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.