In the past few months I've been quite busy writing program notes and preview pieces for the gala opening of the new home for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Opening night (see related article ) was October 18th and the early reaction to the new facility, its ambience and its acoustics is a cavalcade of praise and excitement from audiences, critics and media folk.
After arduous work and deadlines I am finally able to focus on the performers and, thus far, the shows have been spectacular. But to my mind the most significant production coup of the 3-week opening festival has been the opportunity to see and hear the legendary Hermeto Pascoal in his first visit to Gotham in many years.
Known as O Bruxo (The Sorcerer) because of his uncanny ability to make music out of stones, bottles, pots, plastic toys and other objects, Pascoal has also composed traditional scores for small groups and collaborated with symphony orchestras. At a time when musicians and composers in the jazz world and their counterparts in classical, folk, operatic, and pop music are all searching for originality in their creations, Pascoal stands as an unequaled model with his innovative harmonies, complex melodies and instrumental oddities. His musical colors are conspicuously individual, his sound is completely unique and his music possesses a depth and intrigue that will earn him a high place in the pantheon of great contemporary musical figures.
Born in 1936 in Lagoa da Canoa, Alagoas, a small town in northeastern Brazil, Pascoal moved to Rio in the 50's and began an important association with percussionist Airto Moreira. By the time their group "Quarteto Novo" disbanded in 1969, Pascoal had met Miles Davis who immediately recognized his talent and asked him to contribute music to the album Live-Evil a memorable affair released in 1970. During the following years Pascoal performed with Gil Evans, Cal Tjader, John McLaughlin and Antonio Carlos Jobim in addition to appearances with the Berlin and Copenhagen Symphony orchestras. He has performed with countless Brazilian luminaries many of whom (along with Pascoal himself ) remain relatively unknown to American audiences.
I first came across Pascoal when he performed at Town Hall in 1990 in a two-night concert series that went unnoticed in the New York press. I previewed the show with an interview piece (I spoke to Pascoal while he was appearing in Innsbruck Austria) and wondered what indeed would be my reaction when I heard him live on March 10 and 11.
It is difficult to overstate the excitement I felt upon hearing and seeing this "wild albino" (a term used by Miles Davis) and marveling over his astounding originality. After this wild incursion, Pascoal disappeared into his mystical existence unperturbed by his virtual anonymity and continually inspired to pursue his quest for musical idiosyncrasy.
In the Lincoln Center performances on Oct. 29 and 30 Pascoal unveiled his latest creations. Although the parade of toys, rocks and plumbing fixtures used during the show was familiar, the compositions were quite different from those I recall from the Town Hall events so many years ago. However, the impact of Pascoal's indomitable originality was as powerful as ever. All of this coupled with the spectacular sound and amazing ambiance of The Allen Room (one of three concert spaces at the new facility) made the events among the most memorable in my recollection.
Serenata: The Music of Hermeto Pascoal