REVIEW: Gilberto Gil at Carnegie Hall

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Tuesday November 13, 2012

from The New York Times

Rustic Melodies Survive a Long Trip
Gilberto Gil at Carnegie Hall in Voices of Latin America
By Jon Pareles

A musicology lesson turned into a dance party when Gilberto Gil performed at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night.

Mr. Gil, the great songwriter who was Brazil’s minister of culture from 2003 to 2008, has circled back to music that inspired him to become a musician: forró, the music of Brazil’s hardscrabble rural Northeast. Forró is dance music with its own family of peppy rhythms, most of them driven — like the Cajun music of Louisiana — by an accordion and a very busy triangle. (It is one of worldwide music culture’s deep mysteries why country laborers in hot climates choose fast, strenuous dancing on their few days off.)

Forró’s standard-bearer in Brazil was the singer and accordionist Luiz Gonzaga (1912-89), who made forró a nationwide phenomenon while singing about rural life and romance and acting the bumpkin. Mr. Gil’s set was interspersed with old Gonzaga songs.

But Mr. Gil is no bumpkin. He’s an urban sophisticate and an intellectual, so simply recreating Gonzaga’s rough-and-ready originals was not on the agenda. The band mixed traditional forró instruments — accordion, triangle, zabumba (drum) and rabeca (fiddle) — with bass and two electric guitars (including Mr. Gil’s), and the Gonzaga remakes were thoroughly reimagined: with different chords, new instrumental flourishes, perhaps some wah-wah guitar.

One Gonzaga classic, “Asa Branca” — which, despite its euphoric tune, is about northeastern Brazil’s crippling droughts — featured an unannounced guest: David Byrne, singing in English.

Even with their new twists, the songs maintained their forró energy, which Mr. Gil carried into rusticated versions of his own songs, like “Expresso 2222.” Ever the musical scholar, he named some of the rhythms onstage: xaxado, baião and xote (pronounced SHOAT-eh), a Brazilian rhythm that’s derived from the Scottish-rooted schottische and that still hinted at a jig in the hands of the band’s rabeca player, Nicolas Krassik.

Mr. Gil’s concert was the beginning of Carnegie Hall’s impressive series Voices of Latin America; he is one of its artistic advisers. But the concert had to fight its setting. Carnegie Hall is simply not a good place for percussive dance music, not only because of its seats and formality, but also because its natural reverberation works against rhythmic crispness.

Read the full article here