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Hermeto Pascoal: Slaves Mass

John Kelman By

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Hermeto Pascoal—Slaves MassHermeto Pascoal
Slaves Mass
Warner Bros.
1977

It's not hard to see why the creator of today's Rediscovery, Hermeto Pascoal, was such a significant figure to everyone from Miles Davis and Gil Evans to Herbie Hancock and, of course, Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, who co-produced Slaves Mass. Had the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist only released this one album, he'd have already been assured a mention in jazz history. Slaves Mass would ultimately become a career-defining record, but Pascoal was already a major name in his home country, his career dating back to a first-known appearance on Brazilian pianist/composer Clovis Pereira's Ritmos Alucinantes (1956) but who, by 1960, began releasing albums with groups including Conjunto Som 4 and Quarteto Novo before finally releasing his first album as a leader, 1970's Hermeto Pascoal (reissued on CD as Brazilian Adventure).

Then-husband and wife team Moreira and Purim had, by the release of Slaves Mass, garnered significantly greater international attention than Pascoal for a collective résumé that included work with everyone from Chick Corea, Weather Report and Miles Davis to Santana, George Duke and Stanley Turrentine—not to mention their own albums, including Moreira's superb Free (CTI, 1972) and Purim's equally fine Butterfly Dreams (Fantasy, 1973). But though Pascoal would never attain the same popular status as his co-producers, he is a true legend in the history of Brazilian music: a musician's musician who, for those who care to dig deeper than the music's most superficial layer, is an inescapable name that comes up either as either an influence, a source of material...or, for the lucky ones, a guest performer.

Slaves Mass covers a lot of territory in its 42-minute runtime—expanded, in later CD reissues, to a more plentiful 76 minutes with the addition of three bonus tracks that, rather than afterthoughts or superfluous additions, provide an even bigger window into Pascoal's compositional universe, whether it's the relative miniature of the joyously folkloric "Open Field" or the more expansive epics "Pica Pau" and "Star Trap," both of which run in excess of 14 minutes.

But it's the core 42 minutes of Slaves Mass that render it such an essential recording in the history of Brazil's contributions to the world of jazz. The album features plenty of big name guests—beyond Moreira and Purim, including bassists Ron Carter and Alphonso Johnson, electric guitarist David Amaro, drummer Chester Thompson and trombonist Raul De Souza—but in the final analysis it's Pascoal's massive instrumental palette that defines an album which travels the full breadth of his native country, from Amazonian rain forests to the more urban Rio de Janeiro.

All too often, multi-instrumentalists are jacks of all trades and masters of none, but Pascoal is a powerful virtuoso on everything he touches, whether it's contributing raw, visceral flute work to the album's frenetic yet unforgettable opener, "Mixing Pot," dark-hued and, at times, oblique acoustic guitar on the title track (complete with Moreira's "special effects with live pigs"), or, on "Just Listen," his improvisational acumen in an acoustic piano master class that travels from freely constructed melodies to unfettered explorations of more angular terrain...and everything in-between.

Most significant, however, is his ability to construct detailed, multilayered compositions. The soprano saxophone and Fender Rhodes at the foundation of the ambling and initially apt-titled "That Waltz" shift tempo mid-tune into a straight fours feature for de Souza. Even more impressive is the original album closer, "Cherry Jam," where Pascoal's blending of Rhodes and clavinet create an underpinning for some extreme soprano saxophone exploration that, in its overall vibe, makes clear the debt Miles Davis clearly owed when the trumpeter included three of Pascoal's compositions on his own Live-Evil (Columbia, 1971).

During his 1970s electric period, the trumpeter would never, however, settle into the kind of easygoing groove that Pascoal does just a few minutes into "Cherry Jam." Still, in the multi-instrumentalist's shift from saxophone to clavinet for a solo that swings with furious abandon—with Carter on bass, how could it not?—and his ability to break down into complete and utter freedom, only to find his way back to form, Pascoal demonstrates exactly why he has become such an important and influential name. Truly, whether it's an exploration of the multitude of polyrhythmic styles that emerged from Brazil or his complete and utter comfort with the jazz vernacular, Pascoal was a musician...a magician, in fact, capable of just about anything.

The great news is that Slaves Mass—along with a handful of others essential Pascoal titles—have been reissued in Japan at an extremely affordable price. So for those aware of Pascoal's magic but looking to upgrade from well-worn vinyl, and those who've never had the pleasure of hearing this remarkable, groundbreaking musician beyond, perhaps, his brief appearances on Live-Evil, there's never been a better time than now.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you know this record, and if so, how do you feel about it?


[Note: You can read the genesis of this Rediscovery column here.]

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