Alex Alves: Verde (1999)
Something of a child prodigy, Brazilian guitarist Alex Alves began studying classical guitar in '75 at the age of six and, by the age of eleven, was performing in concert with the Musica Popular Brasileira Orchestra. During his teenage years he performed with a variety of groups in diverse contexts including Brazilian music, jazz and rock. At the age of twenty, he relocated to Germany, where he has lived ever since and, in the ensuing years, studied classical music composition and worked as a composer/performer/arranger for various live, film, video, documentary and theatre projects. Amongst his concert/recording credits is a project with Brazilian legend Baden Powell, an artist whose blending of classical artistry, jazz and a more popular approach is clearly an inspiration for Alves, although Alves retains a stronger link to the classical tradition on Verde , a solo album of Brazilian-informed compositions that blends strong technique with a deeper musicality.
Alves demonstrates his debt to Powell on his version of "Deixa," the only non-original composition of the set. Starting with a deceptively powerful introduction, Alves soon settles into a darkly romantic reading of the Powell composition. Alves takes full advantage of the liberties that are available in interpreting time in solo performance, sometimes stretching it out, at other times compressing it; sometimes playing rubato, other times breaking into a samba rhythm. And, while Alves' formidable prowess gives him the latitude to be broadly interpretive, he never sacrifices lyricism for virtuosity.
Elsewhere in the programme, Alves' original pieces traverse a breadth of territory. "Agua" has hints of Villa-Lobos and demonstrates Alves' strong dynamic control. The title track is a bright piece that has hints of Gismonti, but whereas Gismonti comes to the guitar from a pianist's perspective, Alves is all about the specific potential of his chosen instrument, playing with cleaner lines and more expansive classical technique. "Vem cá!" is another joyful piece that also alludes to the Gismonti connection but is played with more finesse, while "Melancolia" is aptly-titled: a brooding piece that manages to be introspective and delicately powerful at the same time. "Conselho de Mãe is a short dance that demonstrates Alves' ability to blend his strong classical background with a more naïve, folk-like approach.
While Alves' influences are evident, they don't dominate; instead, they are subsumed into a whole that is infused with enough of Alves' own personality to make Verde one of finer solo guitar recordings of Brazilian music to come out in recent years. An album that makes for engaging listening on a number of levels, Verde apparently demonstrates only one facet of Alves' all-encompassing musical interests, as he continues to work on projects as diverse as contemporary dance and the video game Monsters, Inc. But as broad as Alves' concerns are, his heart is clearly still in Brazil, something that Verde demonstrates with passion and elegance.
Personnel: Alex Alves (classical guitar)