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.

<< Jan Garbarek: Visible World (ECM 1585)
>> Michelle Makarski: Caoine (ECM 1587 NS)

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.

<< Heinz Reber: MA – Two Songs (ECM 1581 NS)
>> Alfred Schnittke: Psalms of Repentance (ECM 1583 NS)

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.

<< György Kurtág: Hommage à R.Sch. (ECM 1508 NS)
>> Giya Kancheli: Abii ne Viderem (ECM 1510 NS)

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.

<< Stephan Micus: Darkness And Light (ECM 1427)
>> Eleni Karaindrou: Music For Films (ECM 1429)

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 find 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.

<< Paul Giger: Chartres (ECM 1386 NS)
>> Ralph Towner: City Of Eyes (ECM 1388)

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.

<< Pat Metheny Group: First Circle (ECM 1278)
>> Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition: Album Album (ECM 1280)

Egberto Gismonti & Academia de Danças: Sanfona (ECM 1203/04)

ECM 1203_04

Egberto Gismonti
Academia De Danças

Egberto Gismonti piano, guitars, Indian organ, voice
Mauro Senise saxophones, flute
Zeca Assumpção bass
Nene drums, percussion
Recorded November 1980 at Talent Studio, Oslo, and April 1981 at the Amerika Haus, München
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

For his third ECM effort, renaissance man Egberto Gismonti offers a classic diptych. The first half is a heaping helping of originals played with his Academia de Danças quartet, the second a live solo set from Munich. One can hardly listen to Gismonti at his best without being there to catch every story as it falls through the cracks. Everyone’s story will be different. Here’s one:

The accentuating winds of “Marcatu” waft past our noses. The scent is moist, hinting at lichen. Our breathing quickens us as we climb into thinner air, compensated by a majestic and quiet beauty in all directions. Gismonti’s piano introduces itself as the traveler who will be our guide. As he works his magico on the keys, bass (Zeca Assumpção) and drums (Nene) assume his lead, leaving Gismonti running with a saxophone (Mauro Senise), and us, following close behind. Every gesture of “10 Anos” is another footstep tracing the outskirts of a place unknown. And without knowing it, we have become one person. We wish to introduce ourself to the new community in the vale, into which we have now crossed. Drums nip at our heels as we find ourselves propelled by the downward slope. We are welcomed with ceremony in “Frevo.” But then, a lone figure cuts through the celebration, bringing with him the possibility of destruction. Instead, he shows us the wisdom of local ways, observing proper form in the presence of new life, the possibilities of love, and the realities of an ever-changing kinship. As the forest yields ancestors’ whispers, that their progeny might better survive, so too are voices encamped here among their people, where fires burn low and judgments even lower. Yet somewhere in the shadows, the saxophone lies in wait, trickster in disguise. Whatever mischief lies in store, however, is dispelled by the crystalline joys of “Lôro.” Here we find rebirth, brought forward to a council of harmony.

A four-part tribute follows, an epic in true Gismontian fashion. This time around, his guitar returns cloaked in the shadows of pianism, carried by an airborne saxophone. Every fluted note is an ensnared animal, gift of the hunt and of the gather. Recounting those undeniable moments of community that embraced us, we hear the voices of our own past in the harmonium, bleeding into guitar and drums. From this tenderness emerges “De Repente,” an engaging 12-string interlude that could give Gustavo Santaolalla a run for his money any day. And run it most certainly does, as if after spending time in the village, we find our heart also ensnared, only now by the life we abandoned on our way to getting here. And so, we take these feet and put them to the ground as quickly as they will, running hand-in-hand with the person we once were. The Ralph Towner-like diction here makes for one of Gismonti’s most captivating solo pieces. In our wake we leave the lamenting “Vale Do Eco.” The newly escaped continues in our place, lost and alone. In “12 De Fevereiro” we become her lullaby as she lays herself among the ferns and slumbers. And there she stays until a new village grows in her place, her dream at last realized in “Carta De Amor” before making her final leap into a rare green flash that halos the setting sun.

This album is a perfect example of what “World Music” really should be: not music of this, or any, world, but music that is a world in itself. Arguably Gismonti’s best date on any label and an essential one for your collection.

<< Keith Jarrett: Invocations/The Moth And The Flame (ECM 1201/02)
>> Old And New Dreams: Playing (ECM 1205)

Haden/Garbarek/Gismonti: Folk Songs (ECM 1170)

ECM 1170

Folk Songs

Charlie Haden bass
Jan Garbarek saxophones
Egberto Gismonti guitars, piano
Recorded November 1979 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This scintillating follow-up album to Magico is yet another fine example of ECM’s progressive comings together. Uniting multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti with the instantly recognizable stylings of saxophonist Jan Garbarek and bassist Charlie Haden seems at once a stroke of genius and an inevitable configuration. A blue “Folk Song” sets the tone for all tender considerations that follow, slowly working its motions into a helix of atmospheres. Gismonti stretches out a gorgeous drawl in “Bôdas De Prata.” Within the open bowl of Garbarek’s cupped tenor, he glows like a firefly. The rhythmic acuity of “Cego Aderaldo” is enough to sustain an otherwise languid album. There is something special about the 12-string/sax combination here that recalls the label’s Solstice days and pairs beautifully with “Veien,” which gives us the album’s most reactive moments. Gismonti’s perpetuity, Garbarek’s crystalline phrasings, and Haden’s heartening geometries unify, appropriately enough, in “Equilibrista.” This cradle of rolling piano and melodic overlays falls from its bough in a melodious tumble, landing on its feet for the final word, which comes in the form of “For Turiya,” another ballad-like seesaw of piano and bass resting on the fulcrum of Garbarek’s nocturnal whispers.

Each of these precious musicians has the ability to paint the grandest pictures with the subtlest gestures. This tension of method and effect is at the heart of ECM’s ethos. In such projects, one feels producer Manfred Eicher’s conversational presence and guiding hand, both of which can only illuminate the joys of creation and the sharing thereof.

<< Jan Garbarek/Kjell Johnsen: Aftenland (ECM 1169)
>> Keith Jarrett: Nude Ants (ECM 1171/72)