Egberto Gismonti has long insisted that “popular” and “serious” musical idioms need not be opposite poles, and few of his works underline his argument more convincingly than “Strawa no Sertão”, the five-part suite he composed in 1993 and first recorded with the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra in 1995 on the ECM album “Meeting Point”. Bernard Wystraëte and his group now present Gismonti’s own arrangement for chamber ensemble.
The title calls for explanation: Gismonti imagines “Strava”, the Russian composer Igor Stravinisky, living in the Sertão, the seared savanna in the State of Bahia in the northeast of Brazil and reflects on how his musical thought might have developed in such a locale, notorious both for its poverty and its droughts. Life there is a constant struggle for existence. Brazil’s national epic “Os sertões” (“Rebellion in the Backlands”) by Euclidis da Cunha, first published in 1902, famously described the rebellion of the Sertão peasants in the late 19th century and its suppression by the government.
Crowded with slaves and Indians, the region was not only a melting pot for Brazil’s outcasts but also a place where different musical traditions blended even more easily than in the rest of the country. When Gismonti banishes Stravinsky to the Sertão, the Russian’s rhythmical irregularities and the elegantly controlled motoric energy of his neoclassicist works disrupt the cheerful dances of Brazilian folk music – Maxixe, Choro, Forró to name but a few.
“Strawa no Sertão” is a surreal but also affectionate tribute to Stravinsky. The highly virtuosic score is set for the “unsophisticated” sounds of an ad hoc-village band: piano, vibraphone, flute, clarinet, guitar, cello and - of course - accordion. The recording is completed by five of Gismonti’s smaller pieces – both witty (“Karate”) and tender (“O amor…”).
Egberto Gismonti, born in the Brazilian town of Carmo, studied piano from the age of five and later flute and clarinet. Self-taught on the guitar, he quickly developed his innovative technique on the instrument. Aged 23 he went to Paris to study composition with Nadia Boulanger and Jean Barraqué. Returning to Brazil he began to realize the wealth of Brazilian music. “All European cultures and other cultures are part of ours”, he once said.
Gismonti has issued ten albums as a leader for ECM label, the most recent of which is his “Selected Recordings”, chosen by Gismonti for the Rarum series. He has also appeared on ECM in duo with Charlie Haden (“In Montreal”) and in trio with Charlie Haden and Jan Garbarek (“Magico”, Folk Songs”) .On “Strawa no Sertão” he appears as guest artist playing the piano with the Bernard Wystraëte Group, an ensemble composed of leading French musicians from the worlds of jazz and contemporary music.
Bernard Wystraëte, flautist, conductor and composer, was born in 1942. For several years he played solo flute in the Orchestre de la Comédie Franςaise. As a composer he collaborated with theatre directors such as Giorgio Strehler and Franco Zeffirelli. Wystraëte records both as a flute soloist and as sideman with musicians including Michel Legrand and Maurice Jarre.