Hermeto Pascoal Group Symphony Center New York, NY August 5, 2010
Watching Brazilian-born Hermeto Pascoal perform is a musical experience unlike any other. He has the ability of transforming everyday household items into musical instruments, extracting from them unique sounds that have become his trademark throughout the six decades of his fruitful career.
That is what we experienced on August 5 when Pascoal's 7-piece group stepped on stage at New York's Symphony Center. Bassist Ibere Zwarg started playing a funk-inspired number by himself, and slowly the other members joined him. After a few minutes, the bandleader finally made his entrance, playing on a battered Yamaha DX-7 keyboard. As the tune evolved, the tempos often shifted, and so did the rhythms, going from forro to samba to mainstream jazz and back. Zwarg took the first solo, and his dexterity had Pascoal encouraging him to keep on going until the other bandmembers took over. Pascoal also added his own individual moment, scatting along as he took the vibe into a more northeastern Brazilian vibe.
At the center of the group was vocalist Aline Morena (Pascoal's wife), who improvised wordless vocals throughout the tunes, often hitting extremely high notes when dueting with Vinicius Dorin, who alternated between alto, soprano, tenor saxophone and flute. There was little or no interruption between numbers, as there was no talking with the audience throughout most of the set. All the numbers were incredibly demanding (a characteristic of his compositions), as tempos shifted back and forth mid-tune. During "Casinha no Olho D'Agua," Pascoal played on his famous tea kettle, which is fitted with a trumpet mouthpiece. During that solo, he cited "Round Midnight" and other songs, freely improvising around the changes. At another moment, Pascoal did a call-and response thing with the audience, scatting and having the audience increasingly difficult melodies.
Behind him, his son Fabio Pascoal played a percussion set that included a a pizza pan fitted with a spring, a saw, shovels, cowbells and spice grinders, which were all used both as backing and solos. During another number, Fabio Pascoal and drummer Marcio Bahia played a duet, shifting between the pandeiro and other home-made instruments while the other bandmembers stepped off the stage.
After an almost uninterrupted two-hour set, the group walked off stage and came back for an extended encore that included a very personal take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Desafinado" (the sole cover performed that night), which began as a slower mode and then shifted to a more classic bossa-nova beat. The concert ended as he picked up the accordion to play a baiao, a northeastern Brazilian syncopated beat. He again improvised a lot, and as he finished the tune he received a standing ovation from all present.
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.