No musical expedition to Brazil can be complete without a reverent doffing of the proverbial hat as the traveling musicians make an essential stop at Barrio Jabour, the place where the great Hermeto Pascoal
lives. This is what vibraphonist and marimba artist Erik Charlston did. Fortuitously, he captured the resident and hovering spirits in the splendid Essentially Hermeto. This is an album of songs resplendent in the feelings of unbridled alegria; of joy, as they say, no matter where in Brazil men, women and children live. And because Brazil has a soul as deep as the deepest part of the pacific that laps on her shores, there is also the ache of longing, of saudade The music on Charlston's album goes there as well. As the musical travelers rock along, past barrio after barrio and into the sertao of the Northeast, on an imaginary bullock cart, feelings of heartache and longing smear their souls and wet their eyes.
Erik Charlston puts the tonal palettes of two similar, yet singularly different instruments to brilliant use. On vibraphone he the polyphonic circular harmonies that go with the elementally beautiful melodies of Pascoal's music conjuring scenes of ecstatic nature; then he plays the flatter, more elliptical sounds of the marimba to guide the heart through its aching palpitations. Lines stretch and dally; tempos slow down and the pulse of the music is barely sustainable through the taut neurons of sadness. Suddenly the bright tingle of the triangle and pandeiro, the cuica and samba whistle break through; or the shekere and the wistfulness of the music dissipate like clouds parting. Sunshine is revealed and the strains of the repentista, the sorrowful penitent, turns to ebullience in the sunshine of the Northeast of Brazil.
The changes are palpable in "San Antonio" through "Rebuliço," and most especially in "Essa Foi Demais." Things heat up in the fever of Egberto Gismonti
's maracatu, "Frevo Rasgado." Charlston does a star turn in his joyful tribute to the master in "Hermeto," capturing his wild affection for life. This is followed by a leap into the world of choro, the heart and soul of Brazilian music and Charlston is all in for the ride. His vocal, though sometimes a little anglicized is joyful and full of Brazilian verve.
No praise is high enough for the production values of this album. Its careful engineering captures the instruments and all their nuanced details with crisp and bright sound. And of course the musicians are all at the top of their game, especially pianist Mark Soskin