The Brazilian multi-instrumentalist, composer, and bandleader Hermeto Pascoal produces music that is unmistakably individual, drawing on a kaleidoscopic variety of influences, including contemporary jazz and the popular musical styles of the Northeast of Brazil, such cocos, emboladas and repentes, as well as baião, frevo and choro, with results verging on contemporary art music. His complex compositions are highly demanding of the performer, with use of dissonant harmonies, polyrhythms, unconventional timbres, atonal improvisations, aleatory techniques and more. He became known to American musicians and music-lovers through a brief period working with the late Miles Davis, and through a remarkable series of recordings for Warner and the Brazilian label Som Da Gente.
Luiz Costa-Lima Neto’s book is the first publication in English focusing on the work of this musical genius, looking at music produced between 1981 and 1993. During this period Hermeto worked with a group of five musicians in an ensemble that was called "Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo". Working with Hermeto were Itibere Luis Zwarg (electric bass, tuba and bombardon), Jovino Santos Neto (piano, keyboard, flutes), Antonio Luis Santana (“Pernambuco”) - (percussion), Carlos Daltro Malta (saxophones, flutes, piccolo) and Marcio Villa Bahia (drum kit and percussion). Luiz Costa-Lima Neto explores the sources of Hermeto’s experimental music, their development and characteristics, and describes how these were transformed into a musical system. He reconstructs the processes of creation and music-making by the group, with analysis of a selection of the ensemble's pieces, and demonstrates the innovative role played by Hermeto Pascoal in the history of popular music in Brazil, fusing regional, national, and international l elements to create a universal music which continues to affirm it roots.
July 7, 2016
The Experimental Music of Hermeto Pascoal and Group, 1981-1993: Conception and Language
presents analytic thought about the music of Brazilian composer/bandleader and group from 1981-1993. Hermeto and the five members of his group were Itibere Luis Zwarg (electric bass, tuba and bombardon), Jovino Santos Neto (piano, keyboard, flutes), Antonio Luis Santana ("Pernambuco" percussion), Carlos Daltro Malta (saxophones, flutes, piccolo) and Marcio Villa Bahia (drum kit and percussion). Costa-Lima Neto traces the multi-hued influences on the music of Hermeto Pascoal, such as contemporary jazz, pop music styles from northeastern Brazil including cocos, emboladas, repentes, baido, frevo and choro, and other traditions. The end product is described as a blend of folk influences, Brazilian rhythmic and musical traces, blended into a complex form of art music. After bibliographic discussion, the focus shifts to examining the creative process of Hermeto and group, with additional biographical data and photos of the individual group members.
Costa-Lima Neto is interested in tracing the group's and Pascoal's creative process through apprenticeship, offering the following observation by Hermeto: "When a musician enters my group, generally he knows how to play an instrument. Little by little I encourage him to pick up others, which may lead him to completely change instruments. In any case, this will only enrich his creativity. Practicing music implies constant research and apprenticeship. When a musician joins my group, I want him to know a lot about music, and very soon he will se that, in fact, he knows very little, and has a lot to learn. He is not necessarily a composer when he joins the group, but in two or three years, he will be able to write a score for our repertoire, and above all, to fly with his own wings, to make a solo disc. (Hermeto, Jazz Magazine, 1984), (p. 58)." Thus, Hermeto is intensely concerned with creativity, both group and individual collaborative efforts.
Further implications of the music of Hermeto and Group are explored in chapter 4, Reflections on Acoustics and Psycho-Acoustic and also in chapter 5, Selected Compositions for Analysis. Finally, Costa-Lima Neto arrives through bibliography, group musical process and rigorous analysis at "the genesis and the conception of a musical language." The book's efforts explains why Hermeto is considered to be a unique composer who has developed an original language, achieving highly complex compositions and improvisations with diverse rhythms and deep roots in Brazilian popular music.
Midwes Book Review 2016
Midwest Book Review
July 7, 2016
Brazilian composer and musician Hermeto Pascoal has been a relentless innovator for over five
decades. Blending various pop and folk musics from Brazil with free jazz, swing, pop, classical,
and noise, Pascoal creates rich sonic textures and startling soundscapes. He has been accorded
legendary status in his homeland and celebrated around the globe. In the United States, he is
best known for his early work with Miles Davis, who recorded three of Pascoal’s compositions on
(1971). A virtuoso on several instruments, including the flute, saxophone, and piano,
Pascoal drummed and played electric piano on Live-Evil
. Miles once called Pascoal “the most
impressive musician in the world.”
For Pascoal, everything is an instrument. His songs include the sounds of a creaking hammock,
his hands rubbing his beard, puffs into pints of beer, pig oinks, and a teacher’s swimming
instructions. A prolific composer, Pascoal composed a song every day in 1996, including 29
February, so that all could have a song on their birthday.
In The Experimental Music of Hermeto
Pascoal and Group, 1981–1993: Conception and Language, Luiz Costa-Lima Neto focuses on
the music that Pascoal and his group created between 1981 and 1993, a productive period
during which Pascoal recorded six albums with the same group of musicians who practiced
and rehearsed daily in his rural Brazilian home. Neto contextualizes the music well with a brief
biography of Pascoal’s life, focusing on the influence of his childhood, albinism, early professional career, and interactions with musicians and musics from around the globe.
Neto divides his study into five chapters with an introduction, conclusion, and postscript.
Chapter 1 sets up the book, situating Pascoal’s idiosyncratic music somewhere between popular
and erudite or art music. Sometimes Pascoal can be too innovative for formulaic pop parameters
and sometimes too popular for classical music or even jazz. Yet I would argue, and Neto would
agree, that his music is challenging in its curious combination of forms, harmonic and inharmonic
sounds, improvisations, and shifting rhythms. At times, Pascoal echoes John Cage: “Music
is everywhere, everything is music. A slamming door, a knife spreading butter on a cookie, a
blow on the table” (7). But, unlike Cage, Pascoal argues that “being a musician is knowing how
to use those noises” (7). Neto underscores that, for Pascoal, “[i]mprovisation is the beginning
and end of his whole creative process, coming before and after musical writing” (11).
Somewhat oddly, at least to me, Pascoal, who hears music everywhere and who quests after new timbres
and sonorities, refuses to use computers, synthesizers, or samplers. Such devices, he believes,could lead to standardization in the creative process since all timbres are pre-set at the factory.
Chapter 2, “Bibliographic Discussion,” is ill conceived. Neto acknowledges that coverage of
Pascoal in the Brazilian and international popular press is considerable, but academic papers
are rare. Yet he focuses this chapter on the usefulness and shortcomings of two masters’ theses
and ignores articles in the popular press or on the Internet. The book would have benefited from
incorporating the arguments and findings of the theses in other chapters and eliminating this
chapter altogether, or broadening the discussion to include especially informative articles from
the popular press, which I would have preferred. The other shortcomings in the book are the
conclusion, which reads like a summary, and the lack of an index, which translator Stephen Moore
justifies as a “redundancy” in our electronic age (xiii)—except that I read the print copy of the book.
If Chapter 2 is largely unnecessary, Chapter 3, “The Creative Process of Hermeto and Group,”
is integral and fascinating. Neto considers Pascoal’s musical development in remote northeastern
Brazil where, as a child, Pascoal banged together pieces of iron in his grandfather’s blacksmith’s
shop, made fifes from squash leaves or leaves from castor-oil trees, and, in his adolescence, played
the accordion at weddings and dance halls with his father and brother. His albinism kept him
out of the sunlight and indoors where he spent much time practicing and learning instruments
on his own. Instructors refused him music lessons since his poor eyesight made reading music
difficult. That same poor eyesight led to his acute sense of hearing. In his early twenties, he traveled
to San Paolo, where he performed in nightclubs and on the radio, from which he got fired
for refusing to adhere to musical guidelines or, he might say, limitations. In 1969, at age 33, he
found his way to the United States where his association with Miles Davies led to a blossoming
reputation in the jazz world. In the 1970s, he toured extensively, developing an especially solid
fan base in Europe, and he released two of his most acclaimed albums: Slaves Mass (1977) and
the live Ao Vivo: Montreux Jazz Festival (1979). In 1980, he settled back in Brazil.
From 1981 through 1993, Pascoal worked with a permanent group of five musicians, for
whom Neto provides brief but essential biographies. When not on tour, Pascoal and his group
kept a strict Monday-to-Friday work schedule. In the mornings, while Pascoal wrote, the musicians
reported to his home to practice their instruments or, as one musician said, “clean up
their individual parts” (51). At 2.00 pm, the band convened and rehearsed until 8.00 pm with
musicians encouraged to improvise and to develop their parts. Over the years, Pascoal gave the
musicians more and more freedom, allowing them to rehearse on their own while he composed
and slipped music under the door. Later he would drop by the rehearsal, as one musician joked,
“to mess up our work” (57). A generous leader, Pascoal encouraged his musicians to try new
instruments, to compose, and to record solo records, which four of the five did. As one musician
said, “[Pascoal] is a creator, and a creator can only get along well with those who create” (56).
In the important Chapter 4, “Reflections on Acoustics and Psycho Acoustics,” Neto studies
Pascoal’s fusion of inharmonic and harmonic sounds and considers his various inspirations,
found everywhere from the rehearsal space to the farmyard and to the city street. Chapter 5,
“Selected Compositions for Analysis,” serves as a kind of climax. Neto draws from the previous
four chapters to read closely Pascoal’s compositions. For example, in his discussion of “Serie de Arco,” a song Pascoal wrote for an Olympic gymnast and sister of one of his musicians, Neto considers Pascoal’s creative process and his interaction with musicians, his quest for different
timbres and noises, his use of polychords and trichords, and his use of northeastern Brazilian
music. Neto combines complex musical scores with descriptive prose passages, like this on
“Serie de Arco”: “[W]hile the flute executes trills (minor seconds) in its highest register, and the
piano executes clusters, also in the high register and in trills, the voice is used percussively with
a sound of rrrrrs, produced in the high register with the tongue fluttering rapidly in the roof of
the mouth” (85). Neto uses the same approach to explicate seven other Pascoal compositions,
five of which appear on Hermeto e Grupo (1982).
In short, The Experimental Music of Hermeto Pascoal is an insightful and engaging study
that elucidates the Brazilian experimenter’s development, creative process, and achievement.
Thomas M. Kitts
St. John's University, NY
Popular Music and Society