Feverishly malleable and inventive in his explorations, composer/guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti has nonetheless most often kept the roots, rhythms and flowing melodies of Brazil’s manifold musical expressions foremost in his heart, mind, and art. Saudações, his latest offering, is an ambitious double-disc set that impressively documents the large scope and reach of his work, from orchestral composition to works for acoustic guitar.
“Sertoes Veredas I-VII (Tribute to Miscegenation)” is a long orchestral piece devoted to the confluence of musical and cultural aesthetics in Brazilian music. Indigenous Amazonian music and northeastern traditions are touchstones here, as is, quite often, the spirited Brazilian jazz of choro. Melodies and rhythms growing from these (and other) traditions are variously interwoven, overlaid, laid bare. The orchestration – and this is proof of Gismonti’s great skill – cannot easily be separated from the structural materials, even as it moves kaleidoscopically to take on the attributes of classical balance, 20th century starkness, and the chromatic lushness of 19th century impressionism. A consistent and articulate commitment to thematic variation throughout the work precludes any sense of pastiche. There are clear echoes of Bach, Beethoven and Villa-Lobos, to name a few; but to my ears the work is, in its gracefully organic yet structurally rigorous working of folkloric materials, most often suggestive in sound of late Bartok. Cuba’s Camerata Romeu, recorded in Havana, bring verve and passion to their performance; the cellos, in particular, are resonant and expressive.
The second disc, recorded in Brazil, brings a more intimate approach to a similarly eclectic celebration of Brazil’s rich musical heritage. Gismonti is perhaps best known as a guitarist with a very personal approach to composition and improvisation, one that flows gracefully within jazz, classical, traditional Brazilian, and post-1960s jazz idioms. Here, the poised and sparkling interplay of guitar duets – played by Gismonti and his son, Alexandre Gismonti – evinces textured lyricism and a close-up look at the composer’s own connections to, and unique reinvention of, Brazil’s great history of music for plucked instruments.