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

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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[Egberto Gismonti's] work, overall, possesses an enduring vitality, a quality called 'universality' that will be understood and appreciated for generations to come!
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4
Egberto Gismonti and Friends break the crystal silence of an unforgettable night.

An invitation was extended by the Art of Jazz: Come to the 2008 Celebration and be captivated, inspired, excited and entertained. In covering jazz festivals for over 25 years in four of five continents, it has always been possible to be excited and entertained at various points during the proceedings. But magical moments have been few and far between. Hearing Miles Davis, and revisiting the music he created with Gil Evans with Quincy Jones in Montreux, Switzerland, was certainly one of them. Being surprised by Don Cherry, who joined Alexander von Schlippenbach at an open-air concert in Bombay was another. There may be others, but if they are not recalled, then they have not stuck in the memory. Get my drift?

This hot night in June, at a 200-year-old venue infused with the pioneering spirit, it was possible to be captivated and inspired, excited and entertained in a magical way that brought back personal memories of hearing Miles Davis blow his heart out at the foot of the Swiss Alps... This is what Baraka heard when Monk and Trane played their hearts out at Carnegie Hall in '57. And this is what it was also like to be in a room full of music with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus (the musicians singularly responsible this life lived for jazz alone)... This is what possessed Sheila Jordan to pursue Charlie Parker... to write her Book of Life in the idiom of jazz! This is what it was like on this night when a few hundred of us came to the Fermenting Cellar to hear Egberto Gismonti, the third honoree of The Lifetime Achievement Award on the concluding night of the 2008 Art of Jazz Celebration.

There appear to be absolutely no horizons for Egberto Gismonti. He crosses extreme thresholds of musical convention every time he writes and plays his extraordinary music. He reveals at every turn, a refined brilliance that strikes at the very center of heart and mind. He is addressed, in our native tongue as "Mestre," and he is approached as such—with an almost pontifical respect, but also because his music is so magical he must be approached like one would an ancient druid or shaman making sonic potions for the mind! Few have given such potent food for the soul with their music.

It has been said that great works of music provide deep insights into their composers. We require, for instance, no accompanying commentary replete with biography, to tell us that Bach was different from— say—Debussy. Nor do we need a factotum to accompany music by Aaron Copland, quoting from chapter and verse regarding his habits, thoughts and desires and how they differed from Redames Gnattali... That opus has not yet been composed, nor music written that did not reveal about its composer the secrets of his personality, experiences or attitude to life. Musical compositions lay bare the soul of those who compose and who bring them to life! But not quite so easily the immense, the beyond-category, the indescribable Egberto Gismonti!

The proverbial "sage" figure of Brazilian music, Gismonti's music is alive with an intense concern for questions of sonority and coloration. His brilliant technique is totally informed by Nature. And his genius rests purely on his ability to use his extraordinary natural gifts. His staggering virtuosity as well as the remarkable innovations he has made to enhance the expressive capabilities of the guitar are legend. These very kinds of breakthroughs can only come about as a result of a musician's compulsion to express something that has never been considered part of the technical or emotional spectrum of the instrument. And there is this rarity about his genius: Gismonti is a multi-instrumentalist—piano, guitar, cello, vocals, percussion, flute and other instruments of the orchestra that cover the complete palette of known and unknown sound—and as master music-maker and conductor he can coax incomparable soulfulness from what would be, in the hands of lesser mortals, instruments bereft of personality!

And so when we listen to Egberto Gismonti, we collide with his experiences, and are seized by phrases or orchestral voicing that wholly express faith, exultation and "saudade." We are gripped by a turn of phrase or a rhythmic figure that may conjure up the festive mood of the "samba," the Carnival "frevo," or the melancholy of the "sertao" (backwoods). We are agape at the immensity of melodic lines and splashes of tonal color that capture the dignity, grandeur and mysterious energy of the Amazon. That Egberto Gismonti has the talent, technique and artistic maturity to do almost anything he wants is evident from the scope of his musical explorations, which range from solos and duets, to jazz ensembles, and from film and ballet scores to epic orchestral works.


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