Guinga in the City of Angels

I know a thing or two about Brazilian music (same as the next guy, right?), but
until recently could claim no familiarity with the guitarist/composer known as Guinga. To remedy this situation, I accepted a gracious invitation to attend an evening of music involving Guinga performing both with his own quartet and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

There was some early trepidation on my part. I don’t hang with the classical crowd often, and was unsure if Guinga fit into the familiar categories (samba, bossa nova, MPB, forro, axe, etc.) that I would consider to be “my” Brazilian music. And more importantly, would my wife Teresa (whose birthday it was) like it?

Turns out I needn’t have worried. In the first half, three other gents accompanied Guinga to form a combo comprised of two guitars, clarinet and trumpet. All four players displayed not only dazzling technical proficiency on their instruments but multilayered depths ofpure emotion as well. The tunes ranged from Brazilian-tinged jazz to stark melancholy to a bopping jauntiness suggestive of New Orleans.

Though there was no percussion, the group was able to supply a propulsive edge when needed, going from delicate to aggressive in the blink of an eye and likewise segueing seamlessly in and out of solo passages which were not only heartily applauded but often punctuated by audible gasps of astonishment from the audience.

For the second half, which Guinga promised would be “even better,” the foursome was joined by the L.A.
Philharmonic with guest conductor Vince Mendoza plus pianist/singer Ivan Lins. The music had the same eclecticism, now enriched by a sweeping symphonic panorama equal parts classical, jazz and just plain out of this world.

Lins sang three songs (two in Portuguese, one English) and some very expert soloing was once again appreciated. Finally Guinga himself, who claimed in broken English that he’s “not a singer,” offered up a stunningly beautiful ballad in praise of his daughter. I didn’t understand the Portuguese lyrics, but
I did discern the word “princess” among them. It brought a lump of joy to my throat.

This concert marked my first-ever experience of not only Guinga, but also the Los Angeles Philharmonic and downtown’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to any of them. If I didn’t previously consider this sort of thing “my” Brazilian music, I certainly did now. And yes, my wife found it highly enjoyable as well.

(Special thanks to Angel Romero and Leah Price.)

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