Charlie Haden & Egberto Gismonti/In Montreal

by Paul Donnelly

There is a sublime moment about three minutes into the opening track when Egberto Gismonti abstracts chords from ‘Café’, a track from his 1978 album Sol Do Meio Dia and Haden steps in with one of those heart-stopping bass solos that you never want to end. Then it becomes obvious that these two are so perfectly in tune with each other. And it doesn’t end there. It is an album of sublime moments. What follows is simply a personal selection of some of them.

About 6 minutes into ‘En Familia’ Gismonti begins to extract all manner of sounds from his guitar: overtones, ripples, tiny bells and thumb piano are all part of his, mostly percussive, workout. The audience, which must have been holding its collective breath, releases rapturous applause. The first time I heard it I joined in. He refreshes notions of what guitar playing can be about.

Haden brings two of his compositions to the performance and one of these, ‘First Song’ coaxes some of the most lyrical guitar from Gismonti. It also shows why, if he hasn’t done so, Haden should make a recording of his bass solos. He constructs a solo that is rooted and resonant, where the lines are clear and uncluttered and let the melody speak. I was reminded of some of his work with Jarrett’s quartet in the late Seventies.

Egberto Gismonti, of course, is as adept at the piano as with the various guitars he uses. The lightness of his rhythmic touch and his restraint when developing melodic improvisation are exemplified on ‘Palhaco’. He also has a way of altering the dynamic of his approach as he opens with unadorned melodic lines then builds a series of fractured splintery attacks on the piece. The range of his invention is constantly startling. Haden also adds his own depths to this track with a mix of chords and those perfectly placed notes that highlight the simplicity of the tune.

On ‘Loro’ Gismonti exhibits the two-handed dexterity that shows he can weave rhythms and melodies into an integrated whole. The piece simply dances under his hands as he flits about the upper register while hammering low in the piano’s range. Again there is a mixture of both percussive and melodic approaches. Haden’s understated bass explores the more reflective moments.

The final track ‘Don Quixote’ has one of the most hauntingly majestic, yet simple themes on the album and is treated in several ways throughout its 12 minutes. Once again, Haden’s opening bass statement is sublime as it is underpinned by the piano’s spare chords. Gismonti then takes the melody and, with both restraint and swelling power, offers a full exploration of it.

These musicians, it has been said, can draw on their own and other cultures to produce sounds that will energize and enthrall the listener. I’d prefer not to think of what their influences may be. It is enough to listen and be drawn into the seamless weavings of two creative players who surprise and excite you in different ways within each track. Just listen and enjoy it.

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