Review by Brad Walseth
The back cover of Brazilian guitar phenom Joao Gaspar's debut album, "Camaleao Carioca" shows some of the string instruments this young man plays, including electric and hollow body guitars, nylon, steel and 12-string acoustics, a dobro, a mandolin, a banjo, a Portuguese guitar and a Cavaquinho. That he also plays an electric sitar on the recording, should then come as no surprise, nor should the fact that Gaspar is a highly accomplished player. What does surprise is the strong compositional ability of the musician. Gaspar's impressive technique is certainly on display, but never at the expense of the songwriting, as he moves across divergent styles like samba, flamenco, funk and fusion in a highly enjoyable manner.
Backed by some of the finest musicians in Rio, and including special guests Daniel Jobim, Leandro Braga, Leo Gandelman and fellow guitarist Guniga, Gaspar explores all manner of compositions. The funky "Rola bola" opens like a fresh summer breeze with Gaspar playing lines that combine Brazilian influences with North American jazz styles like those played by George Benson. "Ceu aberto" follows and combines Latin, pop and gospel flavors in this nylon string number.
The legendary Guinga brings his "O coco do coco" to the table, and this acoustic guitar pairing is a true delight of high spirits in the Brazilian manner. But before you become too comfortable on the beach, Gaspar pulls out the electric sitar and takes the listener across the mysterious desert, until Daniel Jobim's piano melody and Leticia Carvalho’s vocals brings a view of Corcovado into sight on this intriguing and satisfying composition.
"Buscape" is a very cool song that revels in its shifting structure and features Gaspar's nylon string mastery moving through Brazilian rhythms, flamenco riffs and some pop/rock elements. Credit should be given to the rhythm section here of Alberto Continentino on bass, Cassio Cuhna on drums and Marco Lobo on percussion for their fine work on this complex tune. Gaspar breaks out the electronics and dobro on "Bluseando," a fusion/blues number that also features trumpet/flughelhornist Jesse Sadoc and keyboardist David Feldman. "DDA" continues the fusion vein, but is funkier, while "Guarda Do Embau" is more melodic, somewhat in the vein of Pat Metheny, but with some banjo and Gaspar's own voicings.
"Choro Invisivel" is a gentle bossa ballad in a more traditional sense, with the typical Brazilian strain of beautiful bittersweet running through it, and the album ends well with Gaspar's solo performance on steel guitar on the haunting "Sereno." Joao Gaspar has already gained a reputation in his native land as one of the finest young guitarists around and this excellent release should help make him known to the North American audience as a young artist to keep our eyes on in the coming years.