World Class Guitarist Odair Assad Pays Homage To Brazil, Family, Friends, Friday At Benaroya

Odair Assad
Seattle Weekly

By Todd Hamm

Odair Assad
Benaroya Recital Hall
Friday, March 2

In one of his first Seattle concert engagements as a solo guitarist, the Brazllian guitarist Odair Assad shone brilliantly in Benaroya Hall's upstairs recital hall (Dan Savage was interviewing Fran Lebowitz on stage downstairs in the big room simultaneously, so not a bad night for Benaroya).The audience was intensely observant, and the roughly two-thirds-full room, hung upon each note, and charming ad-lib between songs (and yes, I got busted for taking pictures with my camera phone).

I'd say the show wasn't more than a degree short of perfection for two reasons: for one, I'm embarrassingly under-qualified to be reviewing such a high-level classical guitar spectacle; and two, Assad played like one of the finest guitar players in the world, which he certainly is.

Broken into two parts, the show began with Assad's renditions of traditional Brazilian pieces by the likes of Gismonti, Sardinha, Pixinguinha, and composer of all composers, Villa Lobos. His command of the strings was phenomenal, but perhaps his most engaging quality, and one that he's become well known for, is the natural flare that he brings to each composition: moving ("hypnotizing" as one woman volunteered at intermission); swaying; nearly dancing each note from the instrument; delivering each phrase with his own personal inflection. He truly made each piece his own.

The second half of the show was devoted to pieces that have been specifically written for, or "dedicated to" (to borrow some classical guitar speak) Assad personally, which really put into perspective the amount of respect that the man has earned on the world scene. As a whole, this segment displayed a more contemporary, progressive style of composition, utilizing percussive techniques on the strings and body of the guitar, and a generally more experimental take on the form. The 2007 piece "Sonata del Caminante" ("Sonata of the traveler") by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, which, on paper, comprises four movements, was performed as a seamless journey, rather than isolated vignettes, and was punctuated by flurries of action.

Assad then debuted his most recent dedication, "Old Friend", which happened to be composed by Seattle resident Kevin Callahan (who was in attendance). This was truly an interesting piece. The program explained it as an homage to the late Jorge Assad, father of Odair, who passed away in the summer of 2011. So, in hearing it played this night, we were hearing a Brazilian man's take on a Seattle man's take on a Brazilian man. Or, more poetically, we were hearing the strength of their friendship through music. Like lining up mirrors, or playing telephone, it resulted in an interesting product. The piece seemed metropolitan, and, as echoed by Assad's more mechanical body language, less jovial. This was compounded by the fact that he had had only a short period of time to learn the piece, and brought out (read: had an assistant bring out) a music stand with sheet music from which to read. It sounded great regardless, and it deserves to be mentioned that it was preceded by a beautiful moment where Odair addressed Callahan as his "best friend."

The night was closed out with a six-part composition called "Seis Brevidades", a piece that tracked the emotional journey through the course of a day, and happened to have been dedicated to Assad by his brother Sergio.

In my humble, rock-critic opinion, the brilliant thing about Assad's playing is the sheer restraint that the man has in terms of volume and tempo. With music so carefully written, the subtlest of variations can change the entire personality of a song, and he controlled the pieces with the utmost patience. His versatility is also impressive: his lively playing spiced up the earlier half of the night just as well as his technical prowess shone through during the later numbers. But even when he played the songs in a more "literal" manner (as Callahan remarked to me after the show), and allowed the composer's voice to be heard more clearly, the songs, as well as the night, certainly belonged to Assad.