Gustavo Assis-Brasil – In Concert
An accomplished guitarist with a remarkably fluid linear concept and a distinctive, ultra-sophisticated harmonic sense, Boston-based Gustavo Assis-Brasil also exhibits a fully developed voice as a composer on his auspicious debut as a leader (available as a two disc set DVD-CD). Recorded on July 20, 2007 before an appreciative hometown audience in his birthplace of Santa Maria, Brazil, In Concert showcases Assis-Brasil on a set of 12 original compositions that distinguish him as a formidable new talent on the jazz scene.
Accompanied by his regular working rhythm tandem of bassist José Pienasola and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli, along with special guests Nené Vianna on fretless electric bass, Bruno Tessele on drums and Julio “Chumbinho” Herrlein on guitar, Assis-Brasil unleashes considerable chops in the context of his highly appealing originals on In Concert. And while he may have absorbed the influences of such contemporary guitar heroes as Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Frank Gambale, Toninho Horta, Romero Lubambo, Pat Martino and Allan Holdsworth over the years, Gustavo has forged a very personal style by utilizing a singular hybrid picking technique which he has developed to a high art. Essentially a blend of conventional plectrum playing and classical fingerstyle technique, this hybrid picking style — in which Gustavo holds a pick between thumb and forefinger while also having independent use of his remaining three fingers on his right hand — allows him to execute flowing legato lines and streams of flawless arpeggios at dazzling speeds. This kind of six-string virtuosity, combined with a darkly beautiful harmonic sense that imbues his tunes with a sense of mystery, instantly sets Assis-Brasil apart from the hordes of promising young jazz guitarists emerging on the scene.
“When I was studying with Mick Goodrick I was crazed about Holdsworth and Wayne Krantz and my writing was very similar to them,” he recalls. “So it was one of my priorities to give up a lot of the stuff that I was doing, like a lot of the distortion legato kind of thing that Holdsworth is so noted for, and try not to think of any guitar player when I’m writing.”
By assimilating a wide range of musical influences from his native Brazil and from his years of studying classical guitar, along with his longstanding love of American jazz, Gustavo was able to come up with something that was uniquely his own. “I grew up listening to bossa nova and rhythms from the South of Brazil like tango and chamame, and that is deeply a part of me,” he says. “Sometimes you think of Brazilian music as samba, bossa nova, baiao, but in the South part we have a lot of Argentinian and European influences. It’s darker and more minor, not as happy sounding as the music in the north or the middle part of Brazil.”
Having majored in classical guitar in Brazil, Gustavo later studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and earned a masters degree there in 2001. He presently teaches summer sessions at Berklee. ”Now I have a green card and I’m teaching and playing, trying to pay my bills playing the guitar,” he laughs.
There was also a time in his formative years when Gustavo absorbed profound lessons from the dozens of guitar instructional videos that he collected. “I was an instructional guitar video freak,” he admits. “I used to woodshed on all kinds of instructional videos by everyone from Holdsworth to Pat Martino to Danny Gatton. So I took in a lot of information, but it was also my goal to find my own thing and not just be like another copy of whoever.”
He succeeds beautifully on In Concert, presenting startlingly original material like the harmonically challenging “The Same Day,” performed with interactive sensitivity by his trio, and the darkly pensive ballad “The Reason Why,” which is underscored by Zottarelli’s gentle brushwork and highlighted by Gustavo’s lyrical legato touch. The guitarist’s buoyant “Eba Fubah” surges with forward momentum and features a fleet-fingered solo by fellow guitarist “Chumbinho.” Gustavo answers with some inspired sweep picking and blistering scalar runs of his own on this upbeat offering, then turns in some sizzling six-string work on the luminous “Fim De Tarde,” which also features a potent solo from bassist Pienasola.
On “55” (For Wayne Krantz), dedicated to his one-time teacher and inspiration, Assis-Brasil executes daring intervallic leaps with Krantz-like precision while on “Sul” he joins with bassist Pienasola for some intricate unison lines on the knotty, dissonant head. That pieces also demonstrates the highly interactive nature of Gustavo’s trio with Pienasola and Zottarelli. “They give me a nice support and they are also good friends of mine, which I think helps a lot with the overall vibe,” he says.
Guest bassist Vianna plays the melody of “Dec. 31st” with a warmth and lyricism that recalls Jaco Pastorius’s playing on Joe Zawinul’s touching ballad “A Remark You Made.” And guest guitarist “Chumbinho” contributes a swinging solo on the breezy “Pra Anamaria,” which also features a gorgeous unaccompanied intro by Assis-Brasil on his nylon string Soloette Guitar. “New Idea” features some chops-busting unisons by Gustavo and Nené on the angular head (the guitarist’s answer to Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” or Jaco’s “Teen Town”) while the mellow “Invisible Meeting” sets a soothing tone that goes down easy. Bassist Vianna returns to funk it up on the catchy, groove-oriented “Sanguessuga” and the collection closes on an introspective note with the delicate “Long Gone,” composed by drummer Zottarelli.
In Concert was produced by Gustavo and directed by his father, Sergio de Assis Brasil, who passed away at age 60 shortly after filming this DVD. “That was his last thing,” says the guitarist of his father. “He had said to me, ‘Hey Gustavo, I never gave you like any big gift, so this is my gift to you.’ And six months later he died. That was sudden…it was hard. But I’m really happy that we got to work together on this project and that I now have this wonderful document of that concert in my hometown. It was really a special evening.”
And one that he can now share with six-string aficionados everywhere. It’s a strong first impression indeed by a promising new talent deserving of wider recognition. — Bill Milkowski
Bill Milkowski is a regular contributor to Jazz Times magazine. He is also the author of “JACO: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius” (Backbeat Books)