Egberto Gismonti: Sertões Veredas
Egberto Gismonti (composer)
Saudaçoes (ECM 2082/2083)
Egberto Gismonti (composer),
except for movement seven, which is composed by Egberto Gismonti and Geraldo E. Carnheiro.
Performed by Camerata Romeu, a 16-piece string orchestra, conducted by Zenaida Romeu.
Recorded: Havana, August 2006
Rating: 96/100 (learn more)
When jazz musicians compose orchestral works, so many things can go wrong. Often the artist's distinctive personality disappears in the translation into complex scores; or the influence of models from classical music overwhelms the jazz ingredients; or—perhaps the most common problem—the rhythmic vitality, so essential to jazz music, is missing in action, either because it never made its way into the notation or due to the inherent difficulty in getting symphonic players to assimilate a groove outside their previous experience. "Symphonic jazz" may not be a oxymoron, but its success stories are as rare as steak tartare.
But Egberto Gismonti's Sertões Veredas avoids the pitfalls, and emerges as a masterpiece of classical-jazz cross-fertilization. I'm not sure if this has any connection to Gismonti's subtitle—a "Tribute to Miscegenation"—but clearly the music itself has a lineage that spans several continents. This artist has shown his versatility in past outings, and I still can't decide whether I admire Gismonti more as a guitarist or as a pianist. With both instruments, he has developed an exciting, highly personal style—furthered by his exceptional skills as a composer. His talents are equally evident in this massive work, comprising seven movements and some seventy minutes of music. It is to Gismonti's credit that he has been able to translate so much of the creativity and visceral energy of his solo and combo jazz performances into this string orchestra work, where he sits on the sidelines, not even showing up as guest soloist or conductor. The mood shifts, the textures, the counterpoint . . . indeed, the sheer confidence and scope of this piece demand respect.
Even so, it will be hard for fans to "place" this work in the context of a career that is already so broad. I sometimes wonder why Gismonti's name doesn't show up more prominently in the various polls and nominee lists when awards are distributed. Certainly his versatility, which refuses to be pinned down to a single instrument or style, contributes to this sad state of affairs. Sertões Veredas will not make it any easier for those who need a pigeonhole in order to appreciate an artist. Yet for those who value music for its vitality and not its kowtowing to the accepted categories, the arrival of this recording is an event to celebrate.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia