June 2008

Hermeto Pascoal
with the Art of Jazz Orchestra conducted by Jovino Santos Neto
at The Art of Jazz Celebration
June 7, 2008Fermenting CellarToronto
Report by Christopher Butcher with photos by Mike Colyer
Miles Davis was a musician known for being extremely bold, but when he talked about Hermeto Pascoal as being “the most impressive musician in the world” it shocked me. I’m very familiar with Miles’ music, and was completely unfamiliar with Pascoal’s music (except for his two compositions on Miles Davis’ album Live-Evil). I took Miles’ quote with a grain of salt yet still jumped at the chance to hear Pascoal at the Art of Jazz.

Hermeto Pascoal was born in Olho d’Agua Brazil on July 22, 1936. He was extremely musically curious from a young age, and experimented by using anything he could get his hands on as a musical instrument. He eventually picked up his fathers instrument, the accordion, and quickly mastered it as he spent all his time practicing in the shade. Being an albino he was unable to work in the fields.

On this night, Pascoal was accompanied by his wife Aline Morena on vocals and guitar, his close musical colleague Jovino Santos Neto conducting and playing various instruments and the Art of Jazz Orchestra. The Art of Jazz Orchestra was a big band in the most literal sense of the word. By my count there were 26 musicians on the band stand over the course of the night and frequently they were all playing simultaneously. The orchestra was stacked with the finest players in Toronto, from every stylistic corner of this city’s diverse jazz scene.

It was evident from the first tune that Hermeto Pascoal has a truly individual voice and would break any preconceived musical rule to express it. The writing for the ensemble was like nothing I’d ever heard before, juxtaposing free cacophonous sections with sparsely accompanied solos sung by Aline Morena. Christian Overton was also featured right off the top with an articulate and commanding trombone solo, followed immediately by the master Pat Labarbera on tenor saxophone. Pascoal got his first words in on the keyboard while holding a sheet of manuscript paper up close to his face in a comical manner. I suppose he was pretending to read music while obviously improvising a beautiful statement that he accompanied vocally at the climax. The first tune seemed to contain an entire musical universe within it but it was completed with Alexis Baro improvising some of the most powerful trumpet work you could ever hear on top of the whole orchestra. I’ve never heard anyone with the sheer power and range Baro has and it was used very musically throughout the whole concert.

The second tune was a refreshing contrast from the first. It was a subtle piece with just Aline Morena singing and playing guitar, while being accompanied by Jovino Santos Neto and Pascoal on melodicas and flutes. Morena showed through the night that she is a musician who can impart many feelings to an audience, in different ways — with soothing Portuguese lyrics, primal screaming with the orchestra and even accompanying Alexis Baro on lead trumpet.

The third piece started with a freely improvised chaotic section, concluding with a number of shots in the brass. Pascoal immediately engaged the audience in shouting shots along with him and the band. John Johnson and Luis Deniz had a nice alto battle. Johnson’s soulful, punctuated be-bop lines were contrasted with Deniz’ long phrases cascading down from the alto’s highest register, very nice until Deniz’ microphone seemed to get cut out. Rich Brown had a beautiful melodic solo on the electric bass, sounding very much like a male R&B singer in his tone and phrasing. Then it was David Virelles’ turn to solo on the keyboards, Pascoal held up another sheet of manuscript paper close to David’s face, but he had no problem expressing himself through the form of the tune.

Hermeto Pascoal
In the second set there were many highlights. There was a fierce statement from Mike Ruby on tenor saxophone, starting out with sheets of sound across a large range and concluding with a bluesy phrase in the altissimo register while the band dropped out. Ruby proved he’s one of the most mature improvisers around regardless of age. Al Kay and Kervin Barreto also spoke with clarity and emotion in their solo spots.

It’s hard to write an article on the concert without bringing up the critical subject of sound reinforcement and acoustics. The Fermenting Cellar while it does look hip with the lights dimmed and more importantly is a large room capable of holding concerts in the beautiful Distillery District, most certainly wasn’t designed with acoustics in mind. This wasn’t so much of an issue at the Egberto Gismonti show the next night as it was all smaller, quieter chamber ensembles but with the Art of Jazz Orchestra it was a problem. This didn’t seem to be helped by the soundman who reinforced all the sound this massive band was putting out at far higher a level than the room could handle. This left the listener with a huge loud shapeless blob of sound that only Terry Clarke’s cymbals and the trumpet section were capable of cutting through. I can’t help but think of all the intricacies of Pascoal’s arrangements that never got communicated to the audience due to this situation.

Pascoal’s musicality really shone through in the solo introductions he did to his tunes. Regardless of whether he was on melodica, bass flute, keyboards, singing, singing into a wine glass, playing a tea kettle, or telling stories in Portuguese he always had something to say. Jovino Santos Neto translated some of what Pascoal was saying. Most of it was the philosophy that the music they were creating was a communication tool, “the public is the reason for my compositions”. This came across in his tunes, attitude and stage demeanour. Thank you Hermeto Pascoal.

The musicians
Hermeto Pascoal – keyboard, vocals, melodica, flute etc.
Aline Morena – vocals, guitar
Jovino Santos Neto – conducting, melodica, flute, piano
Egberto Gismonti – piano
John Johnson – alto saxophone
Luis Deniz – alto saxophone
Pat Labarbera – tenor saxophone
Mike Ruby – tenor saxophone
Perry White – baritone saxophone
Jane Bunnett – soprano saxophone
Al Kay – trombone
Kelsley Grant – trombone
Christian Overton – trombone
Meirion Kelly – trombone
Colin Murray – bass trombone
Alexis Baro – trumpet
Kervin Barreto- trumpet
Larry Kramer – trumpet
Alexander Brown – trumpet
Kevin Turcotte – trumpet
Reg Schwager – guitar
David Virelles – piano, keyboard
Rich Brown – electric bass
Terry Clarke – drums
Maninho Costa – percussion
Allan Hetherington – percussion
We welcome your comments and feedback
Christopher Butcher
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
• •
The Live Music Report

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