Thursday, October 25, 2007
With its luscious melodies and profusion of alluring grooves, Brazilian music has seduced many an American musician. But a recent conquest is one of the sweetest.
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, a celebrated classical ensemble, has embraced Brazil’s exquisite songs by interpreting the music through its own particular experience. The results can be heard on the LAGQ’s recent Telarc album Brazil, which features the music of the celebrated sibling guitar duo Sergio and Odair Assad, guitarist Marco Pereira, multi-instrumental visionary Hermeto Pascoal, Afro-samba composer and guitar legend Baden Powell, and composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Heitor Villa-Lobos.
The LAGQ performs Saturday at the Golden Bough Theatre, and will be exploring the Brazilian material on the second half of the program. For the first half of the program the group will dip into its classical repertoire, including Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” and Bach’s 6th Brandenburg Concerto.
What’s most impressive about the LAGQ’s Brazilian foray is the rhythmic vitality the group brings to the arrangements. Brazil’s guitar tradition is one of the richest in the world, and without a confident grasp of the music’s essential pulse, even the most accomplished non-Brazilian player is left naked and exposed performing tunes that are merely pretty.
“It’s a difficult language,” says John Dearman, one of the quartet’s founding members. “This whole thing about groove has been a real issue for us. In classical music you have your own grooves, but the Brazilian guitar style is very highly evolved. There are very few comparisons, maybe flamenco and American fingerstyle.
“There’s a completely unique set of technical challenges, though of course the Brazilian tradition borrowed a lot from jazz harmonically,” Dearman continues. “It was tricky. A lot of the world music we’ve done has been writing pieces that are our impressions of Gamelan or African or Japanese music. Some of the more folkloric stuff, like a choro or maxixe, can be very tricky to get the right groove. We went in with a lot of humility and came out with even more.”
In addition to Dearman, the LAGQ features founders Scott Tennant and William Kanengiser. Matthew Greif joined the band last year, replacing Andrew York. Each member is a seasoned soloist fully capable of taking over first-chair responsibilities, which means there’s often a different musical personality in the lead from piece to piece.
Musical curiosity, technical virtuosity and stylistic versatility all come together in the LAGQ, which is why the group has no trouble attracting the finest collaborators. On Brazil, the quartet called upon several close friends, such as Brazilian guitar great Paulo Bellinati, who arranged his piece “Carlo’s Dance” for LAGQ and a flutist. He also dedicated his breathtaking “A Furiosa” to the quartet, which it recorded with percussionist Kevin Ricard. Sergio Assad, one half of classical music’s most celebrated guitar duo, was pleased to arrange a medley of Jobim standards for the album.
“The LAGQ has been one of my favorite musical groups for a long time,” Assad wrote in an e-mail. “Their exquisite album dedicated to Brazilian music shows one more time that they are at the very top of their league.”
In many ways the key to the project was the LAGQ’s encounter with the great Brazilian jazz singer Luciana Souza. She met Dearman and Tennant in the fall of 2005 when they were recording Osvaldo Golijov’s “Oceana” for Deutsche Grammophon, a piece he composed for Souza. The guitarists and the singer were instantly smitten with each other, and struck up a fast friendship. Suddenly the quartet’s longstanding desire to develop a Brazilian project moved from the backburner into the oven.
Born in Sao Paula and now based in Los Angeles, Souza is the scion of one of Brazil’s great musical families. The youngest of 12 children, Souza grew up surrounded by some of Brazil’s finest musicians, which includes her mother, the esteemed singer/songwriter Tereza Souza, and her father, Walter Santos, a highly respected songwriter, producer and guitarist who was an adolescent friend and singing partner of Joao Gilberto’s. The legendary multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal is her godfather, which makes her statement “I discovered a lot of things about Brazilian music” working with the LAGQ particularly impressive.
Souza won an avid following while living in New York City, recording a series of brilliant jazz albums that garnered three Grammy nominations. She toured with the quartet extensively over the past two years, and hopes to renew the collaboration in the future.
“These are great musicians who can play amazing classical music and then get into someone else’s music without trying to sound authentic,” Souza says. “They just sound like themselves, ‘here’s our approach to this music,’ and it still grooves like crazy and sounds brilliant. I just don’t understand how the same instrument played by four different personalities and souls can sound so different.”
THE LOS ANGELES GUITAR QUARTET performs 8pm on Saturday, Oct. 27, 8pm at the Golden Bough Theatre on Monte Verde between Eighth and Ninth in Carmel. Tickets are $30 ($35 at the door). 622-0100.