Jazzhead HEAD 165
Reviewed by Chris Cody, October 1st, 2015
This album is the first of the Monash Sessions, a series of recordings from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University, Victoria, Australia.
In March 2012 world famous Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal, after a residency with his band, participated in workshops, rehearsals and the recording of this CD with Australian jazz musicians and students from the jazz program at Monash University. Pascoal, born in 1936, is famous for his vast talents as composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist, having released numerous albums since the 60s with his own bands and collaborated with Airto Moreira, Miles Davis, Flora Purim, and many others. It must have been an incredible and unforgettable experience for all involved.
All compositions and arrangements are from Hermeto’s songbook with help for the horn arrangements for this particular ensemble from Jordan Murray. The band is a bit bottom heavy sounding with drums, bass, percussion, piano, guitar, three tenors, two trombones, and up top, only one soprano sax, and one trumpet/flugelhorn, with no alto saxophones. It is tantalizing to think what strings and flutes may have added, often used on earlier arrangements of the same pieces.
The album opens with Bebê, a Pascoal classic, from his 1973 album A Musica Livre with a rich lush full-recorded sound that marries well with the woodwind and brass writing textures. The first solo we hear is from Doug deVries on nylon string guitar exploiting running lines, unusual phrases using the full range of the instrument, and a chordal and rhythmic chorus, strongly stamping his sound, authority or personality on the piece. It’s followed by a strong lyrical trombone solo from James Macauley which is unfortunately a little far back in the mix compared to the closeness of the guitar and even the bass, percussion and drums. Getting the balance just right in the mix between the different instruments is so important so as not to lose the impact and forcefulness of a soloist’s playing, especially necessary against the dense texture and complexity of Hermeto’s music.
Then we hear from the star himself, gargling his solo through a glass of water, reminiscent of his Musicà da Lagoa, and his long-time use of unconventional objects and sounds to make music. We hear him almost losing it at one point, laughing or coughing. It reminded me a little of wonderful Sydney singer and scatter, Joe “Bebop” Lane, although Joe could get the sound without a glass of water, also being a very good yodeler. After all this energy and fun, the drop off is a little surprising as the band cuts back to solo piano before returning with the modal theme that sounds like a good 60s-70s soundtrack with just a hint of Bernstein. There’s a good tag with sax glissandi, various growls and sounds from the band, some more scatting from Hermeto and finally the unusual and unexpected sound of the whole band applauding themselves before someone suggests “let’s have lunch”.
The second track Fatima, after a fairly densely written introduction over heavy kick drum and dissonant piano patterns, moves onto some lovely flugelhorn playing, followed by an inventive soprano solo by Julien Wilson with some lovely high bent notes, a guitar and trumpet solo. However I found the composition itself a little bland, and perhaps with the rigidity of the rhythm section and its prominence in the mix, playing and writing, the piece couldn’t really take off or open up and missed the bright virtuosity of Pascoal on melodica. It finishes with a “bravo” and muted applause left appended to the track.
The slower Musican Das Nuvens E Do Chao starts with a vocalized melodic line, very much in the Hermeto Pascoal tradition, using many contrasting sections, more richly harmonized melodies, tempo changes and another good trombone solo feature, this time by Jordan Murray. The solo sounds well placed texturally against the electric piano and rhythm section, who start to play well really behind, generating a very good texture and groove. After a guitar solo, Hermeto jumps in on melodica and shows how effectively he can play outside the harmonic changes, take melodic risks and construct a solo that cuts across the pushing and pulsing wave of the rhythm section. The rhythmic texture is really good from here to the end. Unfortunately there is more applause at the end of the piece – it raised an eyebrow the first time at the end of the first piece, again after the second, but if left after every track, it becomes a distraction and slightly annoying. It comes across as self-congratulatory and is unnecessary especially for a public CD release, even if it’s an archival recording .
In O Susto the saxophonist appears to struggle for inventiveness, playing a little up and down the scales on this very technically challenging piece, normally taken quicker by Hermeto himself. Hermeto’s music is very clever, combining classical, jazz, and many Brazilian folk styles, sounds and references and always featuring lots of sections; it is at its best and most successful when Hermeto himself is doing something crazy, virtuosic or unconventional over the top of his challenging compositions and when the rhythm section is really firing behind his passion.
There is yet more recorded applause at the end, then to close the album, a solo voice extract from Hermeto himself doing voice box polyrhythmic and textural demonstrations while talking to an audience. It has poor audio quality compared to the rest of the recording. Could this last track not have been edited down from nearly two minutes to about 30 seconds and included as a shorter edited surprise bonus?