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Live Reviews

The Art of Jazz Celebration 2008: The Refined Brilliance of Heart and Mind

By Published: June 23, 2008
Each work of music reveals something we have never heard before, something unforeseen, a little beyond the edge of our hearing. And as we make the sound our own, we widen the scope of our own experiences. The breadth of Egberto Gismonti's music widens as it is played, so that we too understand its world as well as our own a little better. His work, overall, possesses an enduring vitality, a quality called universality that will be understood and appreciated for generations to come! It follows, then, that anyone who can touch so many with so large a range of emotional experiences must instinctively know the secrets of touching both heart and mind, even with a single note!

This was the man and musician that the Art of Jazz chose to honor with its third Lifetime Achievement Award of 2008.

The evening with Egberto Gismonti saw the Mestre performing in three scenarios—beginning with solo piano, then on piano with the Penderecki String Quartet+Jim Vivian on bass, then short sets with Jane Bunnett featured on soprano saxophone and flute, and with Grupo Desandann and the a capella choir plus Jane Bunnett. The audience had to enjoy a short break from surplus of intensity before Gismonti returned for a set featuring solo guitar, and this was followed by yet another sensational duet—this time with bassist- extraordinaire Don Thompson.

Although he studies various aspects of the Western concepts in music (principally 12-tone theory and the horizontal and vertical dimensions of serial music with Jean Barraque), the innermost essence of his inspiration comes from the beating heart of Brazil and its vital traditional musical form: the choro, literally a "lament." But having eyes and ears and a heart that beats to the rhythm of the Universe, Egberto Gismonti's musical expedition is rooted in the heat and excitement of Brazil.

He opened his performance with a piano set of five magnificent compositions culled from his music of the past two decades—beginning with the epic "Infancia." Gismonti followed this up with "Baiao," which is based on the folk rhythms of the northeast of Brazil, and, in a quite literary, fantastic sort of way, depicted its more primal mix of African and European (such as polka) music. Egberto Gismonti is blessed with sublime technique—like (and this is "historic hearsay") Franz Liszt. He reaches a meditative state when he plays... his deep, almost timeless connection with the planet evident in his work and his compositions as well—musical meditations such as "Realejo," for instance, and the inimitable "Danca." The set concluded with "7 Aneis," from the 1990s, a piece that describes the epic nature of his compositions perfectly!

It became clear that the concert was intended to provide neophytes—and there were many in the audience—with a historic review of Gismonti. The world-renowned Toronto-based Penderecki Quartet, with the addition of bassist Jim Vivian, then joined Gismonti on stage and played his orchestrated versions of five of Gismonti's most famous compositions, with the Mestre himself conducting and providing the inspiration from behind the gleaming Yamaha Grand. The Penderecki Quartet—Jeremy Bell (violin), Simon Fryer (cello), Jerzy Kaplanek (violin) and Christine Vlajk (viola), together with the outstanding bassist Jim Vivian— acquitted themselves with perfection—and joined Gismonti in his readings of tantalizingly complex dance- form-based music: "Forrobodo," followed rapidly by the instantly-recognizable "Forro." "Frevo" and "Karate" provided a fitting finale to the orchestral set.

Then, while Egberto Gismonti took a short break, the stately Don Thompson, who spoke of his undying fascination for Gismonti's music and how he came to write the tribute to this great musician, treated the audience to a rare performance. Thompson, moving to the piano, then performed his own "Egberto," backed by Desandann and Jane Bunnett on soprano saxophone. A sprawling, epic composition itself, Thompson made superb use of an array of tonal voicing, sung in almost reverent sotto voce by the great Cuban a capella choir, and fashioned harmonic development using the sensitive soprano saxophone of Jane Bunnett to paint his musical canvas.

Gismonti would return the favor towards the end of his performance when he asked Thompson to stay and join him on one of the most moving pieces of the night, Gismonti's "Salvador," which was masterfully performed by Thompson—no mean task considering Gismonti's penchant for exchanging ideas with his regular bass-violin cohort, Zeca Assumpsao!

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