Music flows from Hermeto Pascoal like a flooded river. Since his debut, the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer has been immersed (sometimes literally) in music, listening to everyday music, whether it’s the sound of a sledgehammer, a song of a bird or the growl of a pig, or even the ordinary speech of his fellows. It’s all the music of Hermeto Pascoal.
Now in his 85th year, with a hugely influential career and a shelf full of groundbreaking recordings behind him, Hermeto continues to be a conduit for what he calls “universal music” – always composing, rehearsing and touring, always going forward and search for new sounds. Mischievous, childish, unpredictable, the man Miles Davis called “one of the most important musicians on the planet” is coming to Cork next week for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. And no one knows what will happen, not even Hermeto.
Speaking to The Irish Times via Zoom from his home in Rio de Janeiro, and expertly performed by Portuguese jazz guitarist José Dias, Hermeto – as he’s universally known – is immediately likeable, chatty and friendly, without the cautious or the ego you might expect from such a prominent figure in world music. With a large white beard and a snowy mane, he bears a striking resemblance to God.
“Music is everywhere,” he says, leaning towards the camera. “Music is like the air we breathe. Music is everywhere but everyone has their own way of creating and thinking. I am not a theoretician. I am totally intuitive and self-taught, which means that I am free. I even feel like a child, I feel like I’m still eight years old.
From his first steps as a musician, Hermeto was his own teacher, taking any object at hand and making music with it. There’s a clip online of him sitting down to dinner and playing a samba groove on his dishes. Raised in simple circumstances in the countryside of Alagoas in northeast Brazil, he was only seven years old when he picked up his first real musical instrument.
“My father worked on the farm, so he went to work, and when he left, I took the accordion without him knowing. One day my mom was listening behind the door and she thought it was my dad coming home from work. But that was not the case, it was me who was playing! And when my father came back, he listened and he asked me who I had learned to play with. I said, ‘No, I just started playing on my own.’ I was afraid he would scold me, but he didn’t. He was overjoyed and said, ‘Look, I’m going to buy you an accordion, and one that’s even better than that.’ I still have it.”
At the age of eight or nine, Hermeto was playing in leases, popular free local dance parties. “My brother and I were an albino duo called Os Galegos do Pascoal. People with this skin color,” Hermeto says, showing his startling white arm, “they call us Galegos. And it was wonderful. Since then, I have never stopped playing. »
If there is any discernible influence in Hermeto’s otherwise sui generis style, it is the forró music of northeast Brazil that he grew up playing. Traditionally performed by a trio of accordion, triangle and zabumba (a kind of bass drum), the forró is dance music, a product of the cultural melting pot of rural Brazil in the 19th century, encompassing African, Portuguese, French influences and Sephardim.
“It’s like my musical breathing,” Hermeto says of his beloved forró. “And it will never get old, because the beginning of something is like a first step on a ladder, it has to be very solid. If the first step breaks, the whole ladder will collapse. And today, thank God, I still, still, still console myself by remembering those days.
There have been many steps up Hermeto’s ladder since then, as he added a bewildering range of instruments to his arsenal, from conventional instruments such as the piano, guitar and flute, to everyday objects such as kettles, plastic toys, empty bottles, balloon pumps and much more. He rose to prominence in his native country in the mid-1960s, working with then little-known musicians such as singer Elis Regina and composer Edu Lobo, and recording two now legendary albums, Em Som Maior with Sambrasa Trio (1965 , on piano and flute) and Quarteto Novo (1967, on flute) which will be extremely influential both in Brazil and abroad. It was Airto Moreira, drummer and percussionist on these albums, who brought Pascoal to the United States a few years later, where Hermeto left an indelible impression on the great Miles Davis.
“It was something very spiritual, something very universal. It changed me a lot,” he says of his meeting with the great trumpeter. “There was this wonderful thing between us because this meeting between me and Miles is not from Earth, but from the universe. We were brought together by God. I tried a few rounds of boxing with him. gave away all the gear. We just played.
Legend has it that Hermeto hit Miles, who was a huge boxing fan, with a punch because with the Brazilian’s cross gaze, Miles couldn’t understand which way he was looking. But while Miles was impressed with Hermeto – the famously enigmatic trumpet player later called Pascoal a “genius” – the meeting was also a turning point for Hermeto. He would continue to record with Miles, including two studio sessions in June 1970 which would be included on the famous Live-Evil album, which included three of Hermeto’s compositions. This put him on the international map, and among musicians Pascoal is revered as a master composer, whose influence can be heard in many of today’s most respected jazz composers.
Today, Hermeto continues to compose at a prodigious pace. There are stories of the maestro in the back of the tour bus, furiously scribbling tunes the band will play that night. The music catalog is now sketchy and the group knows that any piece can be called.
“When the music comes to me, I just start writing. When I write it down on a piece of paper, I don’t stop to try to understand it. The music comes as if I’m improvising with the instrument. With me it’s like that. It’s more creative, more intuitive. That’s why when I remember my village, it’s as if it were today, as if it were happening today. I’m not in the numbers, I’m in the sound. So the wind, the stars, that’s music. That’s what I call universal music. Music comes from the universe. It’s comes and goes, and you just played it, and the audience knows it feels wonderful.
Those lucky enough to get a ticket to his concert in the Everyman next weekend will find out just how great.
Guinness Cork Jazz Festival 2022
The 44th Guinness Cork Jazz Festival marks the debut of Mark Murphy, impresario of Dublin’s famed Sugar Club, as festival director and signals the sponsor’s determination to create a younger, hipper audience for the festival. As usual, the big shows – like The New Power Generation (the band formerly known as Prince) and Afrobeat legends Seun Kuti and Fela’s Eqypt 80 – aren’t really jazz per se, but this year they carry undeniable musical weight and will satisfy those who love a well-placed backbeat, while the Triskel Arts Centre, also as usual, flies the flag for the more creative end of the jazz spectrum.
Here are six concerts worth checking out this weekend:
Notify & Aoife Doyle, Triskel Arts Centre, Friday 8pm
Double program with the ensemble of six contemporary musicians Notify, conducted by the concertina Pádraig Rynne; and acclaimed singer and songwriter Aoife Doyle with her trio.
GoGo Penguin, Everyman Theater, Friday 10 p.m.
Manchester’s minimalist piano trio tap into a dance-influenced vein with a new drummer.
Amaro Freitas, Triskel Arts Centre, Saturday 2 p.m.
The rising star Brazilian pianist distills Abdullah Ibrahim and Thelonious Monk into his own unique sound.
Ralph Towner, Triskel Arts Centre, Saturday 8 p.m.
The legendary ECM guitarist turns lead acoustic guitar into a Zen meditation.
Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo, Everyman Theatre, Sunday 2 p.m.
See main article; one of the world’s great musical geniuses with his own band — unmissable.
Andy Sheppard East Coast, Triskel Arts Centre, Sunday 8pm
The famous British saxophonist and composer unveils a new international quartet.