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Review: Hermeto Pascoal

Hermeto Pascoal
(Barbican Hall, 20th November 2011. Closing night of London Jazz Festival 2011. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Irrational exuberance. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it was a jazz musician who first came up with the phrase. Alan Greenspan, the Julliard School alumnus and former band colleague of Stan Getz and Johhny Mandel first used it in December 1996…when he was Chairmen of the Federal Reserve Bank, to describe the collective folly of when people channeled unrealistic hopes into asset values,and which can have huge costs when the climate turns. Which gives all the more justification to the harmless, life-affirming, dare one say rational exuberance which 75-year old Brazilian legend Hermeto Pascoal is capable of channelling, and which fired up a phenomenal group of musicians and a full-ish Barbican Hall on the closing night of the London Jazz Festival last night.

There were two bands onstage, Pascoal’s remarkable six-piece Brazilian band, and an elite UK big band, including musicians such as Stuart Hall and Chris Batchelor with deep knowledge of and affinity for Pascoal’s music. The two bands performed in non-stop relay throughout each of the two sets, a formula which worked well in establishing and building energy and involvement.

Pascoal himself as multi-instrumentalist, presiding genius, inspirer, gift-giver held centre stage and radiated energy throughout. There were bouts of comedy such as the moment which found him blowing tuneful bubbles into an aliminium kettle, only to empty the watery contents onto his own head. But also moments of musicianship to take the breath away: he duetted with himself on voiced bass flute; he dug into a DX7 keyboard for grungy sounds; he played a special Round Midnight-y Happy Birthday for Hamilton de Holanda’s manager; he played with astonishing agility on accordion, challenging the others to match his tempo.. and then speeding up.

Pascoal’s way of integrating vocal sounds, rasps gasps, screams, which are the antipathy of what we think of as musical sounds into the line could have- and probably has had – several Ph D’s writtten about it.

Jovino Santos Neto directed the big band, constantly adjusting the order of numbers and the traffic signals within them. He also translated Pascoal’s spoken words into English. Singer Aline Nilson has an astonishing vocal range (particly in alt) and agility. Among the British players, altoist Phil Todd played wonderfully loose and idiomatic solos at the start of each half, the rhythm engine of the Mondesir brothers Michael and Mark on bass and drums matched their Brazilian counterparts for fizzing energy, and the fluency of Ivo Neame on piano also caught the ear.

By the end of the evening there were enough coconut shells onstage for the Barbican hall to be resemble a Brazilian beach. Quite a high on which to close the London Jazz Festival.

Hermeto Pascoal website

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