Itiberê Zwarg, whose Orquestra Família is one of the most radical happenings in Brazilian instrumental music, said this: “I have followed Bernardo Ramos since 1997, so I know his rhythmic, harmonious, melodic, and interpretative talents quite well – and I say they are unlimited.”
The maestro was speaking of the young man who played electric guitar in his orchestra for ten years, cutting three records and performing in the most important concert halls in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. However, it´s impossible to describe this Carioca instrumental musician and composer merely as a pupil of Itiberê (although that would already be saying a great deal).
His teacher´s sounds and those of Hermeto Pascoal (his teacher´s-teacher) are evident in Bernardo´s own musical DNA. But jazz, Toninho Horta, Egberto Gismonti, and Heraldo do Monte influenced him just as much. The same is true for classical guitar (on which he received his original training), rock´s twists, orchestral pieces, and even other cultural fields.
Just listen to Bernardo´s first authorial album, Cangaço (Backlands Bandits), released in 2019 by Rocinante. There are sudden changes in the tempo, contrasting sections, and all kinds of “startling” sounds, recreating the coarse and biting atmosphere evoked by the title. Although such procedures translate much of what Bernardo learned from his musical heroes, they are due equally to his admiration for the radicality of a certain cinema and his embattled vision of Brazil.
In an interview with the digital magazine Arte Brasileira, the artist states that films by Glauber Rocha and David Lynch have been key in his search for “an uncanniness that is also an ecstasy” and show how he conceives his craft as taking a stance in this “constant state of crisis or war” that has gripped Brazil. “These films allowed me to bare my teeth, which are my weapons. You have to fight.”
In the Cangaço album, alongside Beth Dau (voice), Bruno Aguilar (bass), Felipe Continentino (drums), Rafael Rocha (trombone), and Joana Queiroz (with a special performance on the clarinets), Bernardo creates an amalgam of categories that are conventionally understood as dichotomous (“composition/arrangement” and “accompanist/soloist”).
Such organicity already appeared clearly in previous projects such as the soundtrack for the theater play from 2005 Capitães da Areia (Captains of the Sands), composed together with none less than Naná Vasconcelos (and nominated for the Shell Award); the albums Bamboo and Abertura (Opening) (from 2010 and 2012, respectively, both with the Bamboo band, the quintet he formed with Aguilar, pianist Vitor Gonçalves, saxophonist Josué Lopez, and drummer Alex Buck), and the album Gesto (Gesture), recorded as a trio with pianist Rafael Martini and the same Joana, for the Japanese label Spiral Music in 2016.
One of Bernardo´s most fruitful collaborations with Itiberê´s Orquestra Família has been with Joana: he is part of the sextet with which the clarinetist recorded Uma maneira de dizer (So to speak) (2012) and Boa noite pra falar com o mar (A good night to talk to the sea) (2016) and was the musical director of Inventos, a woodwind ensemble that she played in.
Bernardo´s dive into instrumental themes whose depth led to his winning performance in the 2009 Guarulhos Instrumental Music Festival did not prevent him from venturing into Brazilian popular music, as when he arranged and produced Toda pessoa pode ser invenção (Everyone can be an invention) (recorded by Fernanda Gonzaga as a tribute to her father) and worked as arranger and musical director of the concert celebrating Dori Caymmi´s 70th birthday, featuring Dori himself, his siblings Nana and Danilo, and Joyce Moreno.
Based on the above (and we have not even mentioned his projects with Arismar do Espírito Santo, Idriss Boudrioua, Nenê, Rafael Vernet, and many others), when the subject is Berrnardo Ramos, we can be certain that “Itiberê is right.”