Boomkat Product Review:
Necessary vinyl reissue of Vasconcelos’ totemic 1979 ECM side, placing the traditional Brazilian berimbau in orchestral context for the first time, performed by Vasconelos with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, and produced by Manfred Eicher
In between conceptions of folk, experimental classical music and the 4th world, lies Naná Vasconelos’ masterpiece ‘Saudades’. Poetically referring to “melancholy” or “profound longing” in Portuguese (transliterating to “hiraeth” in Welsh and “sehnsucht” in German), the title perfectly sums up the sublime tension between introspection and optimism in Vasconcelos’ music, which is the result of his dream to hear the berimbau, a traditional African instrument transported to Brazil with colonialism, on orchestral stages. The single-stringed instrument was most commonly associated with the secretive martial art/dance form of capoeira - a symbol of resistance for slaves against European rulers - and its deployment in Vasconcelos’ music is therefore groundbreaking in its implied politics, and sounds most beautiful in this setting, patently benefiting from ECM’s peerless production values.
Vasconcelos reveals the instrument’s mutability centrestage against Egberto Gismonti’s string arrangements, with Gismonti also appearing as soloist with the RSO Stuttgart, conducted by Mladen Gutesha, following their work on ECM projects with Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal. The album’s most striking piece is also its opener, with ‘O Berimbau’ depicting an 18 minute call and response vacillating Vasconcelos’s solos with orchestral strings that juxtapose and brilliantly echo the berimbau’s pitchbent vamps. The instrument most distinctively returns in the resonant buzz of closer ‘Dado’, while in between Vasconcelos blossoms in the cracks of tradition and progressive classicism with stunning vocal and string piece ‘Vozes’, the tabla-driven dream of ‘Ondas’, and a spellbinding 10 minute denouement in ‘Cego Aderaldo’ where all his circles bleed most beautifully.