Daniel Riera, flutist, saxophonist, and arranger (from the Red Poppy Web site)
I make no secret of the fact that my knowledge of Brazilian music is minimal. I have a basic knowledge of the repertoire of Heitor Villa-Lobos that includes his Bachianas Brasileiras compositions, his symphonies, and a weak sampling of his music for guitar and/or piano. Every now and then I invoke the name of Antônio Carlos Jobim; and most recently I cited Luiz Bonfá, when the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble performed his most familiar tune, “Manhã de Carnaval.” After that, with the exception of my rare encounters with the music of Clarice Assad, any recollections of listening experiences fall into a black hole.
As a result, last night I approached the evening of music by the Brazilian guitarist and composer Guinga with a combination of curiosity and trepidation. The venue was the Red Poppy Art House, whose events tend to depart from the beaten path often enough that I feel it necessary to track their activities on a monthly basis. The program was presented by Daniel Riera, who alternated between flute and tenor saxophone (with a decided preference for the flute) and prepared all of the arrangements of Guinga’s guitar compositions (not always with the composer’s approval).
Most of what I knew about Guinga going into the concert came from his Wikipedia page. I knew that his birth name was Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar; and I knew that he got the name “Guinga” because it was a mispronunciation of “Gringo,” which he was called as a child due to his pale skin. Beyond Wikipedia I knew that he ran a Brazil Camp in California, which Riera attended for six years. He thus acquired a thorough knowledge of Guinga’s guitar music, which inspired him to arrange the music for other instrumentation (with particular attention to his own flute work).
As I tried to track the eleven pieces that were played over the course of a one-hour set, I realized just how ignorant my ear was, not only of the music but also of Portuguese phonology. About the only word that registered clearly with me was “choro” and that only due to my knowledge of Villa-Lobos compositions. As a result my efforts to document even the titles of the music being played were feeble at best, and I was glad to discover a discography Web page that listed the titles of all of the tracks of all of his albums.
Riera took a diverse approach to instrumentation over the course of his set. Fortunately, he drew upon the talents of guitarist Ian Faquini to offer some sense of how Guinga’s music sounded on guitar (as the composer had intended). Faquini played “Unha e Carne” as a solo, followed by a habanera played as a duo with Riera on flute. The remaining instrumental resources were, to say the least, imaginative. Cellist Misha Khalikulov took a solo in “Cine Baronesa,” accompanied only by Elise Eunjung Kwon on piano. Max Miller-Loran took a trumpet solo in “Par Constante,” reflecting Guinga’s delight in American jazz styles. Faquini and Riera took another duo approach to “Dá o Pé, Loro,” this time with rhythm from Schuyler Karr on bass and Claudio Rochat-Felix on drum kit. Other imaginative instrumentation involved Ruben Sandoval on trombone and Jeannie Psomas on both clarinet and bass clarinet.
Finally, there were the vocals provided by Camille Mai. She sang only two numbers, but they both served up just the right combination of musicianship and personal stylization. Most impressive was her delivery of “Baião de Lacan” as a rapid-fire patter song. For those wondering about that third word, the answer is, “Yes, the composer wrote this as a tribute to the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.” Actually, “tribute” may not be the mot juste in this case. Given Mai’s delivery, one could easily conclude that Guinga had tried to read Lacan and came away thinking it was all nothing but double-talk!