Michigan Theater-Ann Arbor, Michigan February 1, 2003
To say that Brazilian legend Egberto Gismonti’s art is of a rare nature is really only hitting at half the story. For those in attendance during his recent performance at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater, it was a rare treat to even have the opportunity to see and hear Gismonti, as this would be his only US concert appearance so far this year. A student of legendary teacher and composer Nadia Boulanger, this pianist/guitarist/composer has carved a niche through his series of ECM recordings that now span some 25 years and he continues to champion his own muse, which takes in elements of Brazilian folk music, jazz, and classical traditions.
Without a hint of pretentiousness, Gismonti took to the stage for the first act with two 12-string guitars in hand, rather modestly attired in a red skull cap, denim shirt, and black jeans. Over the course of about 50 minutes, he would explore a number of his own works while demonstrating his astounding technique and a virtuosic sense of drama. On pieces like “Raga,” he would evoke the sound of the drums by rhythmically striking the top of his guitar. By employing special tunings, he would also generate some unique harmonic passages on the numbers “Salvador” and “Ciranda Nordestina.” For additional textures, Gismonti rubbed the strings in a rhythmic manner as he did on “Danca dos Escravos,” a number that was also notable for its jazzy harmonies. Employing theatrical shifts in tempo and dynamics, Gismonti’s story was told in contrasts.
The second set found our leading man at the keyboard, his first instrument of training. Like his guitar work, the root of Gismonti’s melodic leads would be found in rhythmic permutations. Both “Sonhos de Recife” and “Frevo” possessed child-like melodies and a gentle charm, the latter fading away to a quiet hush. The range of moods was again stunning; from the gospelish strut of “Infancia” to the kaleidoscopic tour-de-force of “Fala da Paixao.” Then, with a coy sense of humor, Gismonti would wrap up the evening playing a folk melody on a simple plastic tube. Just by tapping his fingers along the length of the tube and muffling the ends of this makeshift device, he achieved a wide range of tones and one had to be amazed at Gismonti’s ability to make music out of even the most common of everyday objects. In a word, shear brilliance!