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Brazilian visionary sculps wild tunes from traditional instruments and livestock

Wednesday, Nov 7 2001
Eccentric band leader and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal embodies a confluence of fertile imagination and striking chops that once compelled the rarely effusive Miles Davis to hail him as "the world's most impressive musician." Yet despite an innovative body of work -- including more than 1,000 compositions, with nearly 20 albums under his own name and dozens more as a sideman -- the 66-year-old Brazilian virtuoso is virtually unknown in the U.S.

Perhaps Pascoal's visionary approach to making music is too broad-minded for the average American ear to handle. Indeed, the array of traditional and unusual instruments he commands -- keys (piano, organ, accordion), winds (flutes, saxes, tuba), strings (variations on guitar, bass, and mandolin), percussion (from trap set to hand drums), toys (especially squeaky ones), found objects (kettles, hubcaps), live animals (pigs, chickens, you name it) -- can be overwhelming. But Pascoal uses these devices as a means to an end: to sculpt beautiful compositions and eminently melodic improvisations, which range in style from whimsical bossa nova to free jazz.

On "Capelinha & Lembrancas" -- an exemplary piece on Eu e Eles, Pascoal's latest CD -- the artist develops a dreamy lyrical relationship between flugelhorn and piano. Then, about halfway through the song, he adds a lead line of gurgling melody by blowing into a glass of water. Despite the strangeness of the sound, this unconventional move is tasteful. And like much of his repertoire, the tune works musically on a number of levels at once.

About The Author

Sam Prestianni


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