In every sense of the phrase, Hermeto Pascoal has been a large presence on the international music scene for 30 or so years.
In every sense of the phrase, Hermeto Pascoal has been a large presence on the international music scene for 30 or so years. Even so, this visit to London must go down as one of his biggest splashes. At the Barbican, winding up a highly successful UK tour, the great Brazilian composer and instrumentalist, who is now 67 years old and rather stout, was fizzing with energy;he positively glowed with pleasure as he moved around the stage, his music blaring around him.
He had every right to be happy. Not only did he have a crack set of (mostly local) musicians playing his ebullient music with great verve, but he had a packed hall doting on his every move and sound. They even applauded when he and his translator, the conductor and pianist Jovino Santos Neto, announced that, yes, the rumours in Brazil were true - his lissome young guest vocalist, Helene Mosena, was his new girlfriend.
Pascoal opened with a solo piano ramble dedicated to London, full of beautiful Brazilian melodies, confused thumpings and teeth-gnashing rhythms reminiscent of a London traffic jam. Then we were into the main event, the band (five trumpets, four trombones and a tuba, five saxes, plus rhythm section) roaring out a massive tutti of interwoven themes, staggered rhythms, staccato riffs and towering brass shouts.
This triple-time concoction seemed to evoke a highly charged meeting between Charles Mingus and Gil Evans. It was a conductor's nightmare but a composer's delight. As the long first set developed, the homage to Evans was made explicit with a piece titled "Long Live Gil Evans". By then, though, other sources of Pascoal's fertile music were evident, especially the big-band arranging of Oliver Nelson.
Yet no one seemed to want to refer to one source for all this. The concert booklet was happy to talk about Pascoal's work with Miles Davis in the early 1970s, but there was also the Latin-jazz experiments of Stan Kenton in the 1940s and 1950s. Kenton's name is about as cool as Max Bygraves these days, but the power of his big-band writing and the energy of his so-called Afro-Cuban rhythm sections had a direct echo in the complex but exhilarating music this band pushed out.
The most delightful music of the evening came in the penultimate number, which featured just Pascoal, his girlfriend, three flautists and percussion. Pascoal played a beautiful lilting melody on his button accordion, while the others made the music sway along. It was mesmerising: even the band's round of shouts to each other in the last number couldn't top it. Perfect.Reuse content