Egberto Gismonti: Cego Aderaldo

5 Dec

Egberto Gismonti: Zigzag

Egberto Gismonti's 1996 album Zigzag on the ECM record label

Birthday greetings to guitarist/pianist/composer Egberto Gismonti, who celebrates No. 64 today. Or in the Portuguese of his native Brazil: ”Parabens.”

Though Gismonti’s parents were Sicilian- and Lebanese-born, and he himself studied in Europe (as well as Brazil), his music is rooted in the multiculturalism of the country of his birth.

“I have a large interest in Brazilian culture, and I have been preoccupied with its development for a long time,” Gismonti said in an interview with Bruce Gilman on the world, Brazil represents a real mixing of races. I’m not talking about living together but about breeding together — Brazilians, Indians, Europeans, Africans. Because of this merging we are closer to the broader picture of life and to a more aesthetic horizon.”

Given that, it’s ironic that one of his most famous and groundbreaking collaborations — with countryman and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos — was accidental. Gismonti planned to do the 1977 album Danca Das Cabecas — Dance of the Heads, if our translation is correct — but, according to, Brazil’s military government placed a restrictive tariff ($7,000) on citizens leaving the country. The musicians Gismonti was to record with couldn’t afford to depart.

Already in Europe, where the album was to be recorded for the ECM record label, with the deadline nearing, Gismonti met Vasconcelos, who was living there. “Having to record the album in three days, he decided to have Vasconcelos into it, and asked by (Vasconcelos) to describe the album’s concept, (Gismonti) explained that both of them had a common history, and he proposed Vasconcelos use that album for telling it,” wrote Alvaro Neder on “It was the history of two boys wandering through a dense, humid forest, full of insects and animals, keeping a 180-feet distance from each other.”

The album won several awards, and according to Neder’s review for, “changed both artists’ lives.”

“I had known his music from Brazil before and I really admired him,” Vasconcelos told N. Scott Robinson in a 2000 interview at “But when we started to play together, it was a big change for his music. Because it was something he had never experienced before. He was used to playing with a quartet . . . When he started to play with me . . . the Afro-Brazilian element was in his music for the first time. Egberto was coming from a schooled concept; he went to the conservatory in Vienna to be a classical musician. I come from the street so I brought those elements to his music. We both realized, how that was so different, but at the same time it was together, because of the way we think.”

Danca Das Cabecas was the first of Gismonti’s many albums for ECM, despite a competing offer — “The main problem,” he told Gilman, “was making a decision between Atlantic’s very substantial contract versus ECM’s very artistic purpose.” Gismonti committed to ECM and the indigenous cultures of Brazil, according to Neder.

“In the heart of the Amazon forest, Alto Xingu, he tried to make contact with the Yawaiapitì tribe, playing his flute for two weeks until head chief Sapaim invited him to his home,” wrote Neder for “They shared no common language other than music and Gismonti spent about a month living and learning with them, upon the condition of spreading the forest people’s values.”

They could have no better advocate. Through the years, Gismonti seems equally comfortable recording with fellow Brazilians Vasconcelos, Nando Carneiro and Zeca Assumpcao, with ECM’s international stars Charlie Haden or Jan Garbarek, or even solo (the favorite here is Gismonti’s work with Garbarek and Haden on ECM’s 1981 release Folk Songs; a link to one of its songs below).

According to, Gismonti taught himself to play the guitar at 21; today his son Alexandre, 30, performs and plays with him. Congratulations, indeed.



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