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Egberto GISMONTI (b.1947)

Sertões Veredas – tributo à miscigenação [75:37]
Duetos de Violões [70:03]
Camerata Romeu/Zenaida Romeu (Sertoes)
Alexandre Gismonti & Egberto Gismonti (guitars: Duetos)
rec. August 2006, Teatro Amadeo Roldán, Havana (Sertoes) April-May 2007, Mega Studio and Cecília Meireles Hall, Rio de Janeiro (Duetos).
ECM RECORDS ECM 2082/83 (1797280) [75:37 + 70:03]
Experience Classicsonline

I was confronted with the contrasts of cultural baggage we all carry with this release. Not having heard of Egberto Gismonti before now, I was caught by surprise when an Argentinean conductor/guitarist friend spotted it lying on my desk at work. His effusive reaction revealed to me something of the regard with which Egberto Gismonti is held in South America, amongst intelligent and well-informed musicians at the very least. Such minor confrontations with the wider world in music expose one’s parochial experience with a sense of sharp contrast, while at the same time justifying the challenge of discovery all music-lovers possess – not just us mad reviewers. With a number of ECM albums already under his belt, Gismonti is at home as much amongst jazz musicians as classical, and his work combining ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ idioms has done much to remove the barriers between the more traditional music of his own cultural background and the weight of Western musical history.

This is most apparent on disc 1 of this set, with the Sertões Veredas for string orchestra. This is a suite of seven pieces which, as Lilian Dias remarks in the booklet notes, “takes a musical journey through Brazil, revealing, in a diffuse way, the different faces of its people, culture and history. It’s a journey through time and space, in a permanent exchange between music, literature and cinema, where nothing is left untouched and everything goes through a deep transformation. However, the translation of this scenery of dreams in the language of music, leads us through a maze of memories and allusions, voices and colours, sounds and images”. Gismonti allows plenty of the Western use of strings and the string orchestra to come through, with hints of Vivaldi and Stravinsky, even Mahler in the short rising motif of the second piece, which may remind listeners of the Scherzo second movement of Mahler’s 9th Symphony. There are also plenty of folk influences, coming through in rhythms from the ‘choro’ style and Brazilian Xingu Indian ritual. These are described and quoted in musical notation in the booklet, which goes a long way towards helping us poor Europeans to appreciate much of what is going on in the music.

This is not to say there are any difficulties here. Anyone who appreciates Villa-Lobos or the richly composed tangos of Astor Piazzolla will have an easy path into what Gismonti is doing here. There is some emotional sentiment, but most of the pieces express a sense of joy and optimism, even where more serious modernistic elements and more abstract compositional techniques are employed. Even when the music appears to meander, it does so with intent. The slow, rather static development of the fifth movement represents the sound of a wheel of a horse cart, the one from a film called Vidas Secas. Specific references such as this will be unfamiliar to many of us in the West, but show a constant wealth of cultural reference and provide us not only with some excellent music, but also a springboard for discovering more.

The orchestra playing here is also worth a mention. This is the Camerata Romeu from Cuba, an intriguing young chamber orchestra made up entirely of female musicians under the direction of conductor Zenaida Romeu. The orchestra is devoted exclusively to the performance of South American music, and their commitment to the music on this disc is clear. If the string refinement is marginally less than with some European examples I find they win in the far more important elements of absolute rhythmic empathy with the music, and a kind of southern-hemisphere resonance which has an unmistakable character. I applaud this individualism. We don’t need more clones of already established orchestras, and Zenaida Romeu’s mission is one which can plough its own furrow on the international scene.

While I have very much enjoyed the Sertões Veredas, putting on disc 2’s Duetos de Violões reminded me of the difference between Keith Jarrett’s own best solo recordings, and his more effortful composed work on ‘In the Light’. While such music is effective enough, there is an entirely different feel when really creative players are involved with their own instrument, and the vibrancy and sheer joie de vivre in the Duetos de Violões makes for compulsive listening. In these duos for two guitars, Egberto Gismonti plays alongside his son Alexandre (b.1981). The synergy and snappy inspirational spark between these two make for one of those rare recordings which leap out of the speakers at you and make you want to hear nothing else for days. Critics have been known to moan about the two-guitar combination, but this duo and these pieces transcend such considerations. The depth of sound, range of articulation and textural colour make for fascinating listening, all driven along by infectious rhythms which dance and sing like water cascading through sunlight. There are no notes on the pieces in the booklet, but there is no real need for explanation. The music ranges from sheer exuberant fun in something like the second piece, Mestiño & Caboclo, through explorations of harmonic layers of sonority in Zig Zag and the quasi-jazz melodic twists and turns of Alexandre Gismonti’s own solo Chora Antónia. The final piece of the set is the gritty but festive solo Saudações, the title Egberto Gismonti explains, meaning ‘greetings, salutations, saludos, saluti’. Looking for comparisons within the ECM stable the name Ralph Towner is the closest I can think of by way of a reference, through this is more in terms of the absolute natural ease these artist share with the guitar and the accessibility of their music rather than in terms of style.

The wide difference between the two discs in this double CD release may make you wonder why they weren’t brought out separately, but I think they complement each other very well. Like a one-stop entertainment centre, you always have the choice between the more searching heft of the string orchestra or the vital energy and virtuoso wit of the guitars. These discs are recorded to ECM’s usual superlative high standards, and neither is given any noticeably artificial acoustic resonance, sounding healthily natural in both instances. If you are feeling blue, Egberto Gismonti’s musical greetings are at least more than half guaranteed to lift you above the clouds.

Dominy Clements



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