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Rare, lovely treat from Brazilian Gilberto Gil

March 27, 2007|John Payne | Special to The Times

Brazilian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gilberto Gil is so revered by his countrymen that, in 1992, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva appointed him minister of culture -- a position he holds to this day. Saturday's solo performance at Royce Hall was a rare opportunity to hear the icon's most renowned songs performed with voice and acoustic guitar, re-creating the recently released compilation disc "Gil Luminoso."

"Maquina do Tempo" started the two-hour, 26-song set with an easy rhythmic flow and a deceptively simple harmonic palette dashed with Gil's smokily grained voice and nimbly inventive acoustic guitar. On "Esoterico" and others, Gil employed whistling and mouth percussion to accompany the loping strut of the samba rhythm.

Although his cover of the Beatles' "When I'm 64" established a logical fit of the song's melody into a bossa nova rhythm, it came off as pleasant puffery; similarly, his version of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" was unforced but superfluous. Faring stronger were radically reharmonized takes on Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" and "No Woman No Cry."

Gil's most piquing songs were drawn from his repertoire of self-penned compositions, several of whose densely chorded and fleet-fingered performances seemingly contained the entire history of Brazilian music.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 29, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Gilberto Gil: A review of singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil in Tuesday's Calendar said he was appointed Brazil's minister of culture in 1992. He was appointed in 2002 and began serving in 2003.

On the spectacularly complex though gorgeous "Voce e Voce," Gil laid out an odd series of chords in feinting progressions that suggested cues taken from late-period Debussy, with the characteristic bossa nova effect of harmonies ascending and descending simultaneously.

Though he returned intermittently to more straightforward favorites such as "Luar," with its rock-like riffing guitar and high-pitched yelps, or the whooping, celebratory ode to his home state, "Toda Menina Baiana," the prevailing tone of Gil's songs is a ruminative sweetness, albeit one achieved via brainy harmonic and melodic gambits.

The rolling lilt of "Outros Viram," an ode to the poetic soul of Brazil, made it abundantly clear that, at 64, Gil remains in remarkably strong voice. His superbly rhythmic guitar work was ambitiously imaginative -- instrumental skills exhibited on the new disc for perhaps the first time in his four-decade career.

A gracious, unaffected man eager to proselytize for the greatness of fellow Brazilian artists, he beamed with pleasure at the adulatory Brazilians in the audience, who supplied his songs' stirring vocal lines.

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