Hermeto Pascoal, Ronnie Scott’s, London – review

Hermeto Pascoal, the veteran Brazilian composer, keyboard player and manipulator of found objects, likes nothing more than stirring the musical pot and cocking a snook at the conventions of performance. The slapstick started from the off – a squabble over who plays what – and the first number managed to squeeze a vocal snippet from The Marriage of Figaro into an amalgam of jazz-rock bass, dense Messiaen harmony and Weimar cabaret march. And the imposing Pascoal had yet to set foot on stage.

Pascoal’s core aesthetic blends 1970s jazz-rock with dense atonal harmony and the musical traditions of his native Brazil. Crunchy bass riffs support melodies that spiral into ever greater complexity. Lead lines, played simultaneously by sax, voice and Pascoal’s electric piano, are discordant and strident – vocalist Aline Morena’s operatic soprano held firm even when chaos reigned. Rhythms are latticed and layered – percussionist Itiberê Zwarg stands behind a well-stocked bric-a-brac stall of things to shake and tap – and driven by Marcio Bahia’s behind-the-scenes drumming and two-fisted piano from the excellent André Marques. And with generous solo space the band can stretch out and breathe.

Marques’ fluent mix of jazz and rhythm was a highlight, Pascoal was virtuosic on both accordion and melodica and there were unaccompanied turns for Morena and saxophonist Vinicíus Dorin. The strong-voiced, straight-faced Morena accompanied her somewhat tricky vocals with flamenco stomps and cross rhythms clapped out above her head. It was one of the evening’s more bizarre spectacles. And while Dorin went through his jazz-rock paces, the band upped sticks and bickered in the corner.

Indeed, it was the music-hall antics that saved the long single set from sounding samey and even a bit well-worn. Donald Duck kazoo was old hat, but the two pink rubber pigs oinking in rhythm were a hoot – one was on skis, for extra effect; Pascoal’s po-face and timing were perfectly pitched. And he played a lovely “Round About Midnight” on the spout of a kettle.

When Pascoal was introduced, it was announced that he would play “a piece of music for the club, but he’d only written it today”.

The piece, a ballad for flute, debuted on the encore. The playing was exemplary and the clowning done.


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