HERMETO PASCOAL | London, Ronnie Scott’s

An artist once described by Miles Davis as ‘the most impressive musician in the world’, 83-year-old Hermeto Pascoal made a rare UK appearance for the EFG London Jazz Festival.  Born in 1936 in the state of Alagoas in North-eastern Brazil, Pascoal, unable to work in the fields of the Sertão owing to his albinism, learned music from every possible source.  Not only did he learn the traditional accordion based Forró music of the region from his father, Hermeto developed an acute ear for the sounds that surrounded him. From animals and nature to his uncle’s blacksmith shop, Hermeto drew on this world of sound and translated it into music – often with unusual objects repurposed as instruments. 

After traveling south to São Paulo in the 60s Pascoal recorded a number of landmark albums with Quarteto Novo, Eddie Lobo, Airto Moreira, and Sambrassa Trio, honing his piano, flute, and compositional skills.  These albums fused North-eastern Brazilian styles with the more eminent Samba and Bossa Nova styles of the era.  In 1971 Pascoal travelled to the US to compose and record with Miles Davis on his album Live/Evil and with Donald Byrd on Electric Byrd.  This sojourn, however productive, was short-lived with Hermeto returning to Brazil in the Mid 70s to record his most famous albums including Slaves Mass and Zabumbê-bum-á in 1977 and 1979 respectively. Since the mid-70s Hermeto has almost ceaselessly released music across a broad spectrum of styles – from traditional North-eastern Brazilian folk music to big band jazz, but his greatest achievements have always been his fusion of disparate styles into what he describes as musica universal. 

The show began with the group slinking onto the stage playing Mazinho Tocando no Coreto, a Frevo style piece where each musician plays either a reed instrument or pandeiro to emulate the marching carnival bands of North-eastern Brazil.  Hermeto, tropical print shirt and fedora hat to compliment his flowing white beard triumphantly declared his sonic presence with a benevolently dissonant chord on the electric piano.  His onstage persona is larger than life and his playfulness cuts through the complexity of the music, conducting freely improvised passages with his humorously erratic body movements.  The tunes played were largely drawn from his 2017 album No Mundo dos Sons. Hermeto’s characteristically complex and elongated melodies played by Jota P. on reeds in unison with Hermeto’s keyboard float over the pulsating latin groove laid down by Itiberê and Ajurinã Zwarg on bass and drums. Each member of his band was given extended solos with pianist André Marques dazzling the crowd with his total mastery of the instrument.  The most poly-rhythmically humorous solo was provided by percussionist, and Hermeto’s son, Fabio, where a variety of whistles, drums, and a squeezy dog toy in the shape of a pig were played with the same level of skill that he showed on more traditional percussion instruments.  Whether playing keys, bass flute, and (what looked like) a hunting horn, or any other instrument or object he turned his hand to, Hermeto’s mastery of improvisation is palpable. Perhaps his nickname O Bruxo (the wizard) is because he can create music from any object that he lays his hand on.

A restless composer, Hermeto writes, as he puts it, ‘at least one piece a day’ and his two days performing in London were no exception. An unusually colourful score that Hermeto wrote on a serviette at lunch earlier in the day was presented to the audience before the group performed this fusion of Brazilian rhythms, Romantic melody, and jazz harmony. The synthesis of traditional Brazilian musical roots and vivacious experimentation is Hermeto Pascoal’s greatest strength.  Drawing on disparate musical sources he creates a music that transcends style, convention, and often traditional instruments.  A music that is veritably universal. 

The EFG London jazz festival continues until 24 November.

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