:: These reviews were originally published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


Gaita paragon

Gabriel Grossi, harmonica Wunderkind.

Daniella Thompson

19 December 2003

Few first discs leave as profound an impression as does Diz que Fui por Aí, debut album of the young harmonica player from Brasília Gabriel Grossi. Like many adolescents, he began playing blues and rock on a pocket harmonica. By the time he was 18, he had switched to the chromatic harmonica, which, in his words, is “as complete as a piano” and which has enabled him to leap from the domain of the two notes to free improvisation—what he likes to do best.

Having passed through the obligatory phase of singing in a heavy metal group, Gabriel Grossi abandoned rock in favor of injecting a rock-like excitement into Brazilian genres, working with an amalgam of samba, baião, frevo, maracatu, pop-rock, jazz, and the music of Hermeto Pascoal—the latter a primary reference for the young musician. In an interview given to the Brasília newspaper Correio last year, Grossi credited Hermeto with helping advance his musical development: “He encouraged me to lose the limitations imposed by the instrument. He helped me understand the harmonica as if it were simultaneously an accordion and a drum set.” When it comes to improvisation, believes Grossi, there are two schools to follow. One is jazz, the other is Hermeto Pascoal: “A unique, Brazilian school.”

The master returns the compliment. “In Brazil,” he says, “where so few harmonica players such as Maurício Einhorn and Rildo Hora have achieved notice, it’s marvelous to see a musician like Gabrielzinho emerge, with technique that is so peculiar and varied, and with no prejudice in relation to any genre.”

Grossi’s disc—whose title, taken from the famous Zé Ketti samba, also makes a statement of arrival—offers a mixture of the classic and the avant-garde laced with jazzy improvisations and demonstrating a high level of virtuosity and versatility.

Diz que Fui por Aí leads off with an exuberantly jazzy rendition of a samba with a long pedigree: “Cai Dentro,” which opened Elis Regina’s anthological Elis, Essa Mulher (1979). In 1997, the guitar quartet Maogani recorded an instrumental version on their first album. The current arrangment by Daniel Santiago is distinguished by its swing. It includes guitar (impressively played by Santiago himself), piano (Leandro Braga), bass (André Vasconcellos), drums (Hermeto sidekick Marcio Bahia), cuíca and tamborim (Leander Motta).

Jazzy samba is followed by wily frevo in “Os Curupira,” a tune of Grossi’s authorship that begins in a deceptively introspective vein before revealing its true rambunctious colors and gathering speed as it goes. Curupira is a mythic nature spirit personified by a wild boy with pointed ears, green teeth, fiery eyes and hair, his feet pointing backwards, who is said to be a defender of nature who helps wild animals. Curupira is also the name of a trio with whom Grossi has played. The arrangement by Grossi features a blend of electric piano and bass (Renato Vasconcellos and Hamilton Pinheiro, respectively), augmented by guitar (Santiago) and percussion (Motta). And there’s a very special appearance by Hermeto Pascoal on mouth piano (escaleta), the same instrument Hermeto played on Trio Curupira’s eponymous disc.

The title track is given a rhythmic choro interpretation, assisted by Rogério Caetano (7-string guitar and arrangement), Rafael dos Anjos (guitar), Pedro Vasconcellos (cavaquinho), Leander Motta (cuíca), and Velrinho (varied percussion instruments). In contrast, the beautifully plaintive “Nossa Valsa” is a duet between harmonica and 7-string guitar, played by the composers. The tune was tailor-made for Grossi’s instrument and sounds like an homage to all the great harmonica players that preceded him.

Uptempo, “Baião de Dois” is more jazz than baião and gives all concerned ample opportunity to demonstrate their technical assurance at high speed. This is the only vocal (though wordless) track on the album, the vocalese contributed by the gifted Mariana Bernardes. There’s a fine sanfona yielded by Robert Curto (who also plays electric piano), soprano sax (Sérgio Galvão), and the astonishing Marcio Bahia in a return appearance. Arranged by Santiago, “Baião de Dois” is a densely woven track full of highlights. It keeps galloping until the very end.

Another restless tune is the choro “Rebuliço” from Hermeto Pascoal’s landmark album Só Não Toca Quem Não Quer. With its complexity and breakneck speed, the tune is a challenge for any soloist. Grossi revels in it, as do his fellow musicians Gabriel Geszti (electric piano), Amoy Ribas (pandeiro), Rogério Caetano (7-string guitar), and Pedro Vasconcellos (cavaquinho). For a change of pace, Grossi invites his teacher Maurício Einhorn for an intimate counterpoint in “Folhas Secas.” Another precious duet is the one between Grossi and guitarist Marco Pereira in the latter’s “Quando Monk Vir a Lobos,” receiving its first recording. Witty title apart, the tune is a heart wringer.

Grossi’s samba “Há Mil Tons” is a tribute to the brilliant bandolinist Hamilton de Holanda. The pulsating arrangement by the author includes trumpet (Moisés Alves), trombone (Samuel Ramos), and keyboards (José Cabrera), apart from the core bass, cavaquinho, 7-string guitar, and percussion. There’s a new change of pace with the choro-canção “Ternura,” composed by the clarinetist K-ximbinho (1917–1980) and recorded on his final album Saudade de um Clarinete (1980), reissued this year by Eldorado. In a setting that includes piano (Renato Vasconcellos), acoustic bass (Rômulo Duarte), and drums (Leander Motta), the track resonates with the atmosphere of a smoky jazz club, a fitting tribute to the composer, an important figure in Brazilian jazz.

Closing the set is another driving Hermeto Pascoal tune, “Viajando pelo Brasil” from Festa dos Deuses, the album through which Grossi became acquainted with O Bruxo’s music. The special guest here is Hamilton de Holanda, playing a 10-string bandolim. The arrangement, for traditional choro instruments plus bass, is an apt summation of the direction chosen by Grossi: a bit of the old, a lot of the new, tossed together with a dash of the unexpected. It’s an auspicious debut and then some.

Gabriel Grossi: Diz que Fui por Aí
(Independent LMCD 0195; 2003) 46:29 min.

Musical direction: Gabriel Grossi & Daniel Santiago

01. Cai Dentro (Baden Powell/Paulo Cesar Pinheiro)
02. Os Curupira (Gabriel Grossi)
03. Diz que Fui por Aí (Zé Ketti/Hortênsio Rocha)
04. Nossa Valsa (Gabriel Grossi/Félix Júnior)
05. Baião de Dois (Daniel Santiago/Caio Tibúrcio)
06. Rebuliço (Hermeto Pascoal)
07. Folhas Secas (Nelson Cavaquinho/Guilherme de Brito)
08. Quando Monk Vir a Lobos (Marco Pereira)
09. Há Mil Tons (Gabriel Grossi)
10. Ternura (K-ximbinho)
11. Viajando pelo Brasil (Hermeto Pascoal)


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