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A Half Dozen Versions of Egberto Gismonti's "Loro"

Updated: Apr 19

Occasionally, I wake up with a song stuck in my head. It might be an obscure tune that is still rumbling around in my memory banks and came to the surface on this particular day for no particular reason. Maybe it was something I ate, or dreamed. I guess they're called 'earworms' these days. Last week it was Tadd Dameron's "On a Misty Night." A few days before that it was Lee Oskar's "(You Remind Me of a) Haunted House (I Once Was In)" from his 1978 album Before the Rain. Once it was Charles Mingus' "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk." Another time it was Gus Arnheim's 1931 nugget, "Sweet and Lovely," a tune that has be covered on record nearly 400 times by everyone from Bing Crosby to Thelonious Monk, and everybody in between. I don't know, I can't control this stuff.

But on this lovely Spring day with the promise of all good things riding on a fresh April breeze, I had Egberto Gismonti's "Loro" stuck in my head. And I had internalized this challenging chorinho so deeply that I was expertly whistling the complicated head all morning, driving my wife Lauren and my dog Jasper crazy in the process.

I had actually seen Gismonti perform this song live back in 1978 when he came to the Milwaukee Performing Arts Center on the strength of his 1977 ECM album, Dança Das Cabeças, which I had devoured that summer. And while I was absolutely mesmerized by his eight-string guitar playing in an intimate duet setting with percussionist Nana Vasconelos on that beloved album that incorporated such dramatic use of space and effortless flurries on a comically wide fretboard, the song that stuck in my after seeing Gismonti in concert was "Loro," which he performed on piano. So many different versions of that ebullient song have been recorded since then, including one by pianist-accordionist-arranger Gil Goldstein where he's accompanied by a singing parrot. So today, in honor of this earworm that I woke up with today, here are six takes on "Loro":

Egberto Gismonti (from Alma, 1987)

Although Gismonti had recorded different versions of "Loro" on previous albums, including on 1981's Sanfona with his Academia de danças quartet, consisting of reed player Mauro Senise, bassist Zeca Assumpção and percussionist Nenê, this solo piano version showcases his absolutely monstrous technique. Truly remarkable.

John McLaughlin (from Music Spoken Here, 1982)

After blazing across the States and Europe with his One Truth Band in 1978, then appearing at the Havana Jam with Trio of Doom (with Jaco Pastorius and Tony Williams) in 1979 and forming the first iteration of The Guitar Trio (with Paco de Lucia and Larry Coryell) in 1980, McLaughlin formed The Translators with American drummer Tommy Campbell, French bassist Jean Paul Celea and French classical pianist Katia Lebèque, who would become his third wife. Their first album together was 1981's Belo Horizonte. But it was on their followup, 1982's Music Spoken Here, that they covered "Loro."

Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding (from Alive at the Village Vanguard, 2023)

The veteran pianist and dynamic vocalist teamed up for a thrilling three nights of mostly off-the-cuff performance at NYC's historic Village Vanguard in 2018. Released in 2023, it marks Hersch's sixth recording in the storied venue. Their interplay and rapport on this expressive version of "Loro" is full of fun, marked by some light-hearted, humorous asides and improvisational twists and turns along the way. Spalding's ethereal, freeform scatting technique through this chopsbusting Gismonti number is absolutely uncanny, like Ella Fitzgerald on nitrous oxide.

Ulf Wakenius (practice video 2024)

While Swedish guitarist Wakenius's claim to fame in jazz circles is his membership in legendary pianist Oscar Peterson's last quartet, from 1997 to 2004, he became immersed in Brazilian music earlier in his career following a stop in Rio de Janeiro in 1985, resulting in three albums -- Aquarela Do Brazil (1985), Rendez-Vous in Rio (1986), and Let's Vamos (1987). Wakenius, who also played in Ray Brown's trio from 1995 to 2002, posted this practice video of him playing and unaccompanied "Loro" on his Facebook page in 2022.

Anat Cohen Tentet (from Happy Song, 2017)

The Israeli-born, New York-based clarinet virtuoso, saxophonist, bandleader and charter member of the all-women jazz band Artemis recorded this buoyant version of Gismonti's "Loro" with her Tentet, featuring accordionist Vitor Gonçalves and arranger Oded Lev-Ari.

Gil Goldstein (from The Tango Kings, 1995)

Next to Gismonti's solo piece rendition, this is my favorite version of his "Loro." A one-off project by American pianist-composer-arranger Gil Goldstein, playing accordion here, and Finnish pianist-composer Iiro Rantala, they put a decidedly tango feel on this Brazilian classic and are joined by Jodok, an African grey parrot that whistles. Adam Rogers provides a beautiful nylon string acoustic guitar solo midway through the song. But Jodok steals the show with his melodic improvising throughout. Seems only appropriate that he be included on this tune whose title is loosely translated into "The Parrot."

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