Egberto Gismonti plus John Law's Congregation
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 17th November 2012. LJF. Review by Rod Fogg)
Egberto Gismonti’s first piece was a seven-minute solo guitar work out mixing melodic ideas with intense Brazilian cross rhythms. A succession of themes were introduced, improvised on and then discarded. Some had the simple harmonies of folk music; some involved deliberate string-squeaks and guitar-percussion suggesting the European avant-garde; others suggested the samba or the sophisticated harmony of Jobim’s bossa nova, while yet others could have been excerpts from classical pieces by Sor or Tarrega.
This opening set the scene for much of what was to come. There is simply no one out there remotely like Gismonti. He plays with intensity, holding the audience in rapt attention and hardly daring to breathe until the release and applause at the end of each piece. He can be whimsical, humorous, explosive; and of course virtuosic - possessed of an energy almost unbelievable in a man born in 1947. The music simply flows, engrossing and entrancing.
Gismonti plays a 10 string guitar, giving him access to a range of bass notes not found on the standard guitar. It's a nylon string, the standard guitar in Brazil where the steel string favoured by folk musicians in the USA never really caught on. He plays finger style, juggling bass lines, ostinatos, chord voicings and melodies. He speaks little, mainly to say that as the titles of his pieces are in Brazilian and it would take too long to explain them he will not bother with introducing pieces at all – it will save time.
The guitar occupied him for about 45 minutes; then it was over to the grand piano for the rest of the concert, perhaps another hour. The piano emphasised a different side of Gismonti's make up. As a young man he studied in Europe with the famed Nadia Boulanger and classically influenced harmony and voicings were more prominent; but then that could be in the nature of the instrument. Certainly the more avant-garde thumps and squeaks were left aside as he explored everything from gentle ballads to full speed samba.
John Law’s Congregation were an inspired choice of support band. Law began his career as a classical pianist, passed through a period as a free-jazzer and now performs in a more melodic and rhythmic style with the excellent Asaf Sirkis on percussion and Yuri Goloubev on bass. They played a set of jazz meets world music -full of nuance and subtlety, with Law occasionally giving glimpses of his classical influences. The material came from their latest CD Three Leaps of the Gazelle.
As a whole the night showed the London Jazz Festival at its very best. Great artists, a great venue and a deeply musical experience.