Egberto Gismonti / Anouar Brahem

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Egberto Gismonti (guitar & piano) & Alexandre Gismonti (guitar)

Anouar Brahem (oud), François Couturier (piano) & Jean-Louis Matinier (accordion)


Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 1 July, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti would be more famous if he were easier to pigeon-hole. Despite his early studies with Nadia Boulanger and Jean Barraqué, his music is too deeply rooted in the styles of his homeland for him to belong to the insular classical contemporary world; despite its soulful rhythms, it is not danceable enough for the world music scene; and despite high-profile collaborations with the likes of Charlie Haden and Jan Garbarek, it is not really jazz either. Fortunately, his records have been released on the ECM label for almost thirty years now, revealing his brilliance to a select but enthusiastic audience; his rare London appearances have an air of occasion.

With his long grey ponytail protruding from a white bandana, Gismonti took the stage with his 10-string guitar, joined by his son Alexandre on a conventional acoustic model for a set of several duets. Their mercurial interplay seemed to take traditional rhythms and modes as a starting point, but create from them a more formally adventurous music; in a remarkable display of musical telepathy, the two performers negotiated sudden rhythmic switchbacks and contrasts of tone in amazing unison. Gismonti drew an uncanny range of colours from his instrument, weird swaying harmonics and silvery chords alternating with guttural bass lines; he made the guitar sound as if there were an orchestra hidden in its wooden confines. A moving solo by Alexandre showed him to be no slouch either.

The polyphonic virtues of Gismonti’s guitar technique derive from his earlier training as a pianist, and he performed several pieces at the keyboard. While it was impossible to tell how much of this music was improvised, his playing had a directness that carried the audience by virtuosic force of character. Melodies were borne aloft on rolling ostinati, and a folkish refrain was subjected to rhythmic games before reaching a bell-like apotheosis. This was glorious, life-affirming playing by an iconoclastic master.

Charlie Haden was scheduled to play the other half of the concert; in his absence, we heard the oud-player Anouar Brahem in the Gallic trio setting of his recent album “Le Pas Du Chat Noir” (once again on ECM). This was a pity, as Haden would have matched Gismonti’s fiery eloquence; as it was, Brahem’s soft-hued music seemed insubstantial by comparison, its melodic simplicity and air of all-purpose melancholy steering perilously close to Amèlie-style kitsch at times. It was redeemed by the tang of Brahem’s lute, though there was not enough space for him to exhibit the brilliance of which he is capable. Instead, the show was comprehensively stolen by accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, whose absurdly agile solo left the audience gasping for breath.



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