Pianos are Blooming in Rio
By Roberto Muggiati
I have written before: in Rio de Janeiro you are bound to bump with music at every street corner. Two recent projects have brought the piano to the forefront in the city: at the Espaço Tom Jobim, enveloped by the greenery of Jardim Botânico, we had the series Piano Gardens, a nightly venue; and downtown, among the columns of Palácio Capanema, the landmark of Brazilian modern architecture, piano trios paraded at lunch hour every day from Monday to Friday, from October to late December. I will do my best to describe briefly – in chronological order – my impressions of some of these ecstatic musical moments.
Rio’s Botanical Gardens were created 207 years ago by Portugal’s King Dom João VI. No cars allowed. You have to walk some three hundred yards into the dark woods, greeted by the croaking of the frogs and the chirping of the crickets, until you get to the music hall. A warm and benign aura hangs over it: in these cool surroundings, Maestro Tom Jobim used to spend his moments of meditation by the shadow of the trees. Producers of this series have opted for a radical change in the relationship musicians/audience: instead of the conventional stage versus orchestra seats, they set up an all-enveloping arena theatre. On the fourteenth of October, David Feldman went solo with – just imagine! – two beautiful Yamaha acoustic grands, provided for the occasion by Guthenberg Pereira, aka “Gut dos Pianos”. Feldman is a citizen of the world, equally at ease in New York or in Rio, at the Montreux Jazz Festival or at a theatre, or in Israel, where his Brazilian parents live. He started playing classical music at four, already with a penchant for improvising. In his teens he studied with Brazil’s legendary pianist Luiz Eça. In 2002, he graduated in Jazz and Contemporary Music from New York’s New School University. There, he played with trombonist Slide Hampton, trumpetist Cláudio Roditi, and the Mingus Big Band.
At the Espaço Tom Jobim, David presents pieces from his new solo CD, piano. He plays bossa nova, Noel Rosa, and inspired originals such as Chobim (Chopin+Jobim), the Monkish O latido do cachorro/The Dog’s Bark, or, a bow to Bill Evans, Intro/Sliding Ways. At the end of the concert he turns his attention to the second piano that the public had almost already forgotten about. Actually, this piano possesses a device that enables it to repeat pre-recorded material. Thus, Feldman is able to play a lively duet with himself over Noel Rosa’s song Conversa de botequim/Saloon chat.
On the night of the fifteenth, it is the turn of Bianca Gismonti and her trio, with Antônio Porto (bass) and Júlio Falavigna (drums and percussion). It is the eve of Bianca’s birthday and I greet her with a gift, a Bill Evans DVD. “Oh, gosh,” she exclaims, “I forgot all about your birthday!” It happened to be on the 6th October, the same birthday of Júlio Falavigna, her husband. “I tell you what: I’ve just made a new arrangement for Água de beber and I will dedicate it to you tonight.” Once a month, Bianca used to coach my sax-piano duo with Regina Lins e Silva – I baptized it The Brancaleone Duo. A very sweet and special woman, Bianca is the daughter of the great musician Egberto Gismonti and the legendary cinema actress of the 70s, Rejane Medeiros. She inherited both her father’s talent and her mother’s beauty. Bianca started studying piano at the age of ten. At Music University (UFRJ) she met her soul sister Cláudia Castelo Branco and they formed the successful Gisbranco Duo, which will bring out a new CD in 2015, Pássaros/Birds, based on poems specially written for them by composer Chico César. Her trio, a new enterprise, also was a great success and traveled extensively in the last year: Europe (Austria, England, Portugal, Spain), South America (Uruguay, Argentine) and Japan.
Among the many songs she plays this night there is Festa no Carmo – dedicated to her father – and Egberto’s Forrobodó/Maracatu. As a special guest, José Staneck plays harmonica on Entre Amigos and Cristal; and with the singer Paula Santoro, A lenda de Francisco. Paula also sings with the trio Gláucia do samba and A luz sem o véu. Sometime earlier, Bianca was composing an ijexá in a South African mood, when Júlio told her that Nelson Mandela had died. The music became Ijexá para Mandela. Bianca also played her new version for Jobim’s Água de beber, a jazzy arrangement with scat singing backed by a percussive piano – and, as promised, she dedicated it to me.
On the third night, Gilson Peranzzetta (piano) and Mauro Senise (saxes, flutes) were intent on celebrating their 25 years of partnership with a live recording of the show – a challenge for real masters in the art of improvising. Everything came out to perfection, their yang-yin relationship working better than ever.
Gilson, composer and arranger, was mostly the brain; Mauro, the improviser, all heart. But Gilson also showed that he is an able improviser and Mauro, on his solos, proved himself to be that “instant composer” extolled by Leonard Bernstein on his musings about jazz. The title of the album, which will be out next May, is Dois na rede/Two In The Hammock. Gilson explained that it came from a conversation between two fishermen he had overheard a long time ago in Recife by the seaside. Fisherman A started telling his tall stories to impress Fisherman B. But B always retorted, saying that he had already done the same thing too. Finally, A told B: “Me and my Missus, we make love in a hammock.” B replied: “That’s a cinch! Me and my baby do that too, all the time.” Then A sorted out his trump: “But we do it standing up!” B shut up his mouth forever. Elated, Gilson went straight back to his hotel and composed a frevo (the local rhythm), Two In The Hammock.
Peranzzetta was back at hand a week later playing piano and doing the arrangements at the same Espaço Tom Jobim with the spectacular 80-figure Orquestra Sinfônica Nacional da Universidade Federal Fluminense, directed by Lanfranco Marcellletti Jr and having guest stars Andrea Ernst Dias (flute), Zeca Assumpção (bass) and the singer Rosa Passos. The first part of the concert featured contemporary composers from Bahia; the second was dedicated to the songs of Brazil’s master songwriter Dorival Caymmi, such as Das Rosas, Marina, O bem do mar and Só louco.
The Piano Gardens series resumed on the night of November 6 featuring a pianist-singer that was a complete surprise to me. Born in São Paulo, Luana Mariano started her classical studies when she was two years old. She won several prizes, including the contest “In Search of Little Mozart.” At eleven, she became the youngest holder of a grant at Campos do Jordão Winter Festival, where she played under the direction of Júlio Medaglia – a record she holds until today. At fifteen, she won a scholarship for perfecting her studies in Vienna, Austria. Coming back to Brazil, she decided to diversify her activities, applying her technique and sensibility to the fields of jazz and blues, and also started to sing.
With guitarist Caesar Barbosa, Luana formed five years ago the Sambulus Duo, which made an in-depth exploration of the repertoires of Jimi Hendrix and Nina Simone. Their night at the Espaço Tom Jobim, with the help of brilliant percussionist Juninho Duvale, was almost wholly dedicated to Nina Simone. My Baby Just Cares For Me, Let It Be Me, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, The House of the Rising Sun, I Loves You Porgy, Love Me Or leave Me were among some of the songs associated to the jazz lady. Luana also sang Strange Fruit, one of the earliest protest songs, recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, but taken over by Nina as a symbol in the fight for human rights. As a bonus, Luana and Caesar also showed a little of their own highly original work.
The best kept secret in Rio was unveiled for me by Paulo Barata, an ex-pupil of Bianca Gismonti’s. From mid-October to mid-December, Mondays to Fridays, from 12:30 to 1:30 PM, at the patio of Palácio Capanema (the former Ministry of Education when Rio was the federal capital, and a landmark of Brazilian modern architecture), there was a piano trio festival going on. The first show I caught was the Osmar Milito trio (Sérgio Barroso, bass; Pascoal Meireles, drums) playing an homage to bossa nova. Born in São Paulo 74 years ago, Milito moved to Rio in his teens and started playing professionally in 1964 at the stronghold of bossa nova in Copacabana, Beco das Garrafas (Bottles’ Alley). Fifty years later, he still keeps the flame, playing three times a week at the Hotel Novo Mundo in Rio.
The next venue I went to among the columns of Palácio Capanema was a tribute to Tom Jobim by the Hamleto Stamato trio. Son of a professional saxophone player, Hamleto has nothing to do with his Shakespearean counterpart: never in doubt, he knows very well what he aims at in music. An amazing speedster, he drives his piano through incredible tempos short of getting a speeding ticket at the end of every chorus. His Tico Tico no Fubá, with a key change at every eighth bar, is an amazing feat of technique and virtuosity. Among other Jobim tunes, he played a very original One Note Samba. For a close, with Ney Conceição on bass and Elivelton Silva at the drums, Stamato played an astounding version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Night in Tunisia.
Fernanda Canaud, piano, with her son Caio Márcio on acoustic guitar and Sir David Chew on cello paid her dues to Villa-Lobos and Ernesto Nazareth: Bachianas nº 5, O trenzinho do caipira and O canto do cisne negro, preceded didactically by a Chew solo version of Saint Saens’ The Swan; and also two guitar pieces by Nazareth and, as a close, the famous Brejeiro, by Brazil’s foremost choro pioneer.
Not far from Palácio Capanema, at Rio’s main railway station, Central do Brasil, on a weekday by the end of the year, many passengers chose to miss their trains in order to listen to a recital by classical pianist Gloria Campaner, who has played with well-known European orchestras. Beethoven, Schumann and Rachmaninoff filled the ears of ordinary carioca citizens who have never attended a concert hall. Surely 2014 was a wonderful year for the piano in Rio de Janeiro and already new keyboard programs, in every sort of setting, are scheduled for this year, when the city celebrates 450 years of its foundation.
Roberto Muggiati is a regular contributor to CIE. He is a musician who writes about music for numerous newspapers and magazines in Brazil.
[Photo Credits: Rafael Oliveira for photos of David Feldman, Bianca Gismonti, and Gilson Peranzzetta. Carolina Moreno for photo of Orquestra Sinfônica de Niterói. SCastellano for photos of Osmar Milito and Fernanda Canaud.]