Rhythm Foundation's 25th Season Celebration
Featuring Gilberto Gil
New World Center, Miami Beach
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Better Than: Tim Robbins's CD collection in High Fidelity.
Last night, the Rhythm Foundation kicked off its 25th season of international music by hosting an intimate evening with world-renowned Brazilian guitarist Gilberto Gil. And the results were nothing short of spellbinding.
Before the concert, guests were treated to complimentary Brazilian cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and the globe-spanning vinyl spinning of DJ Da Lua. Most DJs can't break out of one or two genres, let alone cover both hemispheres, so it was impressive to hear so many continents in Mr. Da Lua's mix. And, hey, the drinks were strong and delicious. Conclusion: The Rhythm Foundation knows how to party.
Before bringing out the man of the hour, the Rhythm Foundation projected a montage of live footage, album covers, news clippings, and candid photographs. This visual tribute made the guitarist's appearance on the stage that much more powerful. It was as though the epic, nearly mythological figure depicted had suddenly ripped himself out of two-dimensionality and into our corporeal realm.
There was one notable difference between the Gil we saw in the opening video and the one that appeared in the flesh a few moments later. The opening clip show depicted Gil performing with every form of accompaniment imagineable: rock bands, Samba rock bands, Jazz players, folkloric Brazilian musicians and dancers, and so on.
But last night was an exquisitely rare opportunity to see the iconic songwriter ride the spotlight like a rodeo cowboy with the grace of a prima ballerina.
"Enjoy the concert," he stated invitingly at the show's start. "It's simply me and my guitar."
Gilberto Gil, his guitar, and, of course, his sonorous, multidimensional, dexterous vocal chords that match the sounds he makes with his instrument in emotion and astounding technicality. After a brief tuning -- which the maestro managed to make sound like a minimalist composition unto itself -- Gil launched full-force into a passionate set that displayed his capabilities as a singer in full splendor.
His default cadence was that of the street corner Bossa guitarist on a Sunday afternoon. But the audience was also treated to some expert scatting which sometimes even took on an air of rapping or toasting. And we may have spoken too soon when we dubbed Andrew Bird the "hardest whistling man in show business." Gil's puckered lips could emulate everything from violins to songbirds.
On occasion, Gil's vocals and vocalizations gave way to beat-boxing in the absence of accompanying musicians. But what Gilberto lacked in onstage back-up was more than compensated for by the crowd, who seemed appreciative that the concert was so intimate, but also yearned to dance. The coffeehouse (with stadium seating) style setup didn't stop people from swaying in their seats, holding up their hands, air-drumming, playing air guitar, and singing with increasing audibility.
A few month's back, we made much ado regarding flamenco axeman Paco de Lucia and his philosophy of Total Shred. Well, Gil gives the legendary Spanish guitarist gives a run for his money. Because while much of the Brazilian's repertoire seemingly emanates from a geyser of sensual relaxation and reflection, his hands and their fingers climb up and down the fretboard with a complexity comparable to nuclear physics. Ever the showman, Gilberto finished most numbers with a dramatically triumphant final strum and statuesque follow-through pose, like a pitcher practicing his delivery.
Passion is inherent to the music of Gilberto Gil. In between songs, he spoke in poetically non-native English to the audience about the stories and messages embedded within his music. And almost always the subject at hand was a meditation on Brazilianicity, a broader Latin American consciousness, and the rich potential for cross-cultural exchange through music. The Rhythm Foundation could not have put together a more fitting kickoff for its 25th season.
The Crowd: Ballers, foreign dignitaries, Rhythm Foundation regulars, and Miamians dressed from head to toe in white.
From the Crowd: Someone shouted "Ecuador!" after Gil omitted the country from a brief list of Latin American nations.
From the Stage: "Love songs come from a cloud. We download them."
Personal Bias: We typically prefer Os Mutantes to Maria Bethania. Luckily, Gilberto Gil falls perfectly between the two.
Gilberto Gil Setlist:
-"Eu Vim da Bahia"
-"Saudade da Bahia"
-"Three Little Birds"
-"Domingo No Parque"
-"Soy Loco Por Ti America"