Fans of Egberto Gismonti probably expected him to play throughout his new two-CD set, but as with Meeting Point, Gismonti’s 1997 ECM outing featuring the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, classical convention trumps jazz tradition. Gismonti is merely the composer of “Sertões Veredas: Tributo à Miscigenação” (“Desert Paths: A Tribute to Miscegenation”), the first disc. His piano and classical guitars, famously custom-made with as many as 14 strings, are absent. The musicians are conductor Zenaida Romeu and her all-female string orchestra, Camerata Romeu. The second disc, entitled “Duetos de Violões” (“Guitar Duets”), is a duo affair pairing Gismonti with his son, Alexandre. Since the liner notes don’t tell us who’s on the left or right channels, we queried the artist and learned that Egberto plays first on all the duet tracks.
Compared with Gismonti’s Meeting Point of 1997, the “Sertões” suite is more folksy and lighthearted, yet strangely more labored. Gismonti writes beautifully and resourcefully for the string ensemble, beginning with an Appalachian-sounding fiddle theme and later evoking Brazilian cowboys, choros, movies, the circus and Xingu Indian dance rituals. But the sameness of the strings’ textures impedes the composer’s coloristic impulses when we compare this new piece with Sol Do Meio Dia, Dança Das Cabeças, Magico, or even Infância. Since the miscegenation Gismonti celebrates is the cultural and geographical diversity of his homeland, the choice of instrumentation remains a paradox. The fine booklet notes by Lilian Dias, generously supplemented with extracts from the score, give us valuable insights into Gismonti’s intentions and where he draws inspiration from Beethoven, Villa-Lobos, Bach, Stravinsky and the Xingu.
The “Guitar Duets” CD is most akin to the soundworld of Infância in its churning aesthetic, but there are numerous titles reprised here—including “Lundú,” “Palhaço” and “Dança dos Escravos”—that longtime Gismonti followers will have heard before. After 75-plus minutes of “Sertões,” the simple raindrop patterns that greet us from the left channel at the start of “Lundú” are instantly refreshing. The low notes accessible on the Gismontis’ customized guitars become more evident in the ballad section of the ensuing track, “Mestiço & Caboclo,” before the duo speeds up and we’re showered with a harmonics rampage. Electricity and trancelike repetition reach Jarrett proportions over the predictable vamp played by Alexandre on the right channel. Skip ahead to “Escravos” (the only duet track where Egberto plays on the right channel) and you’ll find plenty of fascinating percussive and tremolo action. On two solos, dad’s “Palhaço” and his own “Chora Antônio,” Alexandre proves to be an artist worthy of his own following. Both tracks carry a teasing taste of bossa nova, but the sly quote from Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” in the second half of “Antônio,” also shows that Alexandre, like his father, is firmly rooted in the classics.