Egberto Gismonti returned to New York on September 12, 2014 after a 10-year hiatus to perform to an enthusiastic audience at the Peter Norton Theatre at Symphony Space. The concert was presented by the Americas Society, sponsored by the MetLife Foundation.
Introduced by Music Director Sebastian Zubieta, Gismonti opened his program on guitar with a set of three pieces performed classical-style on an acoustic nylon 10-string guitar. His first piece, Alegrinho & Saudações, coaxed a multiplicity of rising and falling calypso rhythms and sonic textures from the bass strings. After a brief guitar-tuning interlude against the Steinway piano onstage, Gismonti repositioned the nonslip cloth onto his left leg and played his second guitar piece, Mestiço & Caboclo, which evoked a traditional Spanish sound and groove which had Gismonti bobbing along. Its rhythms burst into jovial fretboard tapping along the bass strings and simultaneous, galloping pluck of right hand treble strings.
If there one description could characterize the entire evening’s concert, it would be of Gismonti’s astonishing energy and vibrancy. Musically, he is able to evoke an array of new and unfamiliar creatures that traipse forward, peer with glittering eyes from the underbrush and then vanish just as mysteriously as they’d emerged. His third piece, Águas Luminosas & Bianca, proved to be fleet-fingered and melodic in complexity, arpeggiated and in a minor key set against resonant bass strings.
From where I was seated, I could see Gismonti’s luthier, Ricardo Dias, standing in the wings patiently, waiting to exchange the nylon 10-string for his acoustic steel-string 10-string guitar, which had suffered an injury due to the inherent tension of the steel strings. It had been repair 3 days prior to the concert. With this guitar, Gismonti performed the piece Salvador with a gorgeous string-bending effect and pedal bass, gently popping and snapping the right-hand strings. The piece had a sinuous, darkly beautiful tone, almost growling in the lower register. He then performed Selva Amazônica , which had all the complexity of an Indian raga with an almost sitar-like and percussive tabla combined.
Gismonti returned to the same nylon-string 10-string guitar he opened his concert with to perform Danca Dos Escravos, a piece that begins with rapid fretboard tapping and fingertip percussion played out upon the upper side of the guitar. It’s evident that rhythm streams abundantly and effortlessly from Gismonti’s pores for, at one point, he threw in a funhouse element of tickling a high-pitched rhythm out of the strings above the nut at the headstock. He closed the guitar portion of his concert with his piece Lundu, an exotic form of minimalism.
For the remainder of the concert, Gismonti performed the piano. His first piece, 7 Anéis, was softly lyrical and sentimental before it veered into a volley of flourishes that spiraled into more orchestral grandeur with a sweeping range of dynamics and an achingly clean ending. Watching him play the piano, it becomes very clear how Gismonti regards both the piano and guitar as compositional and musical equals, as he communicates the same depth of rhythmical and technical complexity from both and his musical voice is just as full and resonant.
After a while it seemed easy to forget that any fingers are involved at all—Gismonti magically pulled off the effect that we were witnessing his brain synapses firing effortlessly up and down the keyboard. Between pieces, he collected himself by standing and leaning against the piano with his back toward the audience, as if to concentrate and gather in his thoughts before he sat down again to resume playing.
After playing Realejo by Villa-Lobos to end his set, Gismonti returned to perform two encores. One of them, Don Quixote, was in tribute to bassist Charlie Haden. It was a piano composition he told the audience he had written earlier that morning, intending to emulate Haden’s own improvisatory character. Without question, it conveyed a sentimental and deeply moving tribute to his friend. The final encore for the evening was Gismonti’s heartfelt Fala Da Paixao.
It was an unforgettable concert for those who were fortunate to attend and hopefully, New York will not have to wait another ten years for Gismonti’s return.
Egberto Gismonti’s performance was presented in collaboration with the Savassi Festival New York. Created in 2003 in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil, it is a community jazz and instrumental music festival named for the region where the festival originated.
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