How would Sérgio Assad, Brazilian guitar virtuoso and half of the Assad Brothers guitar duo – who have been performing in the United States for almost 35 years – describe tonight’s “Brazilian Guitar Summit?”

Brian Merlos
So many strings, so little time. (COURTESY OF EMS)

“It’s just a blend of nice music,” he said.

Tonight, the Assad Brothers (Sérgio and Odair) are presenting the “Brazilian Guitar Summit,” a showcase featuring five stunning guitar players. “Summit” will be held in the Rackham Amphitheatre and begin at 8 p.m.

Each guitarist performing at “Summit” provides an individually nuanced style of guitar, producing an assorted collection of music, in the same venue.

“When (Odair and I) picked people for the show, we wanted to get musicians far from what we perform,” Sérgio said. “The only common ground is that we all play guitar and we’re from Brazil.”

Although the Assads are natives of Brazil, the “Summit” signifies a return to old terrain. Both brothers spent stints living in Ann Arbor during their teenage years.

“We have a link with Ann Arbor that’s quite strong,” Assad said. “When I come back it’s like visiting the past.”

Both Sérgio and Odair are classical guitarists whose usual repertoire consists of baroque-style music. The duo has collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who is a vehement fan of their music, for an arrangement of “Menino,” one of Sérgio’s original compositions.

Badi Assad, the duo’s sister, brings a more contemporary and unorthodox style of classical guitar playing to “Summit.” She has mastered the art of self-accompaniment with a performance style that fuses the classical and the avant-garde. She plays the guitar, provides her own vocal-percussion (think human beat-boxing) and sings – sometimes all at once.

“Badi is a band all on her own,” Sérgio said.

The music of Romero Lubambo, a jazz guitarist, is a component of “Summit” that may be most comparable to the music genre known as Bossa Nova. His smooth melodies are subtle and seductive. The infusion of jazz and samba apparent in his arrangements are indicative of such Brazilian music that could be said characterize the Bossa Nova sound. Still, “Summit” isn’t necessarily centered on Bossa Nova music – contrary to what one might think when the words “Brazilian” and “guitarist” appear in the same term.

“In America, people hear Bossa Nova and think it’s Brazilian music,” Sérgio said. “(The music for “Summit”) is linked with Bossa Nova, but when we start going closer to Brazilian musical roots, I don’t think it will be so familiar to (Bossa Nova) fans.”

With “Summit,” Assad hopes these varying approaches to guitar playing will introduce the audience to music that is, although performed by Brazilians, different from mainstreamed Brazilian sounds. The project works to contradict assumptions one unfamiliar with world music might have – assumptions that associate the hyper-commercialized forms of Bossa Nova, for instance, with “elevator music,” as Assad quipped.

Multi-instrumentalist Celso Machado will add to the Brazilian blend with a brand of guitar-playing that has a distinct African sound. His music often invokes a delicate languidness redolent of Carribean melodies. Machado is a necessary touch for a Brazilian guitar summit, considering the number of genres associated with Brazil -Samba and Lambada perhaps the most recognizable – that are, at their origins, Afro-Brazilian.

The evening will culminate with all musicians taking the stage for a collaboration that promises to be truly eclectic.

“It’s music expressed by artists who have different backgrounds,” Sérgio said. “At the end of the show, it’s like we’ve started our own band.”

A band consisting of five musicians who are each acclaimed in their own right? “Summit” might deserve a description a bit more poetic than “nice.”

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