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Hermeto Pascoal

Hermeto Pascoal

: Courtesy of the artist.

Jovino Santos Neto and Paul Taub return Hermeto Pascoal’s invigorating iconoclasm to center stage with their concert The Unknown Flute Music of Hermeto Pascoal

PICTURE: Jovino Santos Neto and Paul Taub

By Howard Mandel

Brazilian mega-musician Hermeto Pascoal visited Seattle just once. And though the concert was well received, it’s highly unlikely the 76-year-old, Rio de Janiero-based, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser of wildly imaginative works for the most idiosyncratic ensembles and noisemakers, will ever make it back to the Pacific Northwest. However, Jovino Santos Neto and Paul Taub return Hermeto’s invigorating iconoclasm to center stage with their concert The Unknown Flute Music of Hermeto Pascoal at Cornish College of the Arts’ PONCHO Concert Hall on February 15th.

Pianist Neto and flutist Taub are more fit than most to perform such a show: Neto comes from a rock and jazz background but also composes and plays flute; Taub, a classically-trained flutist has long harbored an interest in edgy music and radically extended techniques. Indeed, probably few others could straddle the range of Pascoal’s pieces, which in the Cornish concert will include duets, a trio and an all-flute tentet. This time out, Taub and Neto will not attempt Hermeto’s scores written for squealing pigs, pumped air canisters, teakettles, or sounds produced directly on, or from human bodies.

“I met Hermeto in 1977, when I was 23,” says Neto, who, disillusioned with the music business, had traveled to Canada to study biology. He was already a huge fan of the unclassifiable Pascoal, who first became famous as a member of all-albino Brazilian accordion trio O Mundo Pegando Fogo (The World On Fire). By ‘77, Hermeto had demonstrated his seemingly innate ability to make music on whatever instrument he touched. His reputation had spread to North America and Europe through his participation in recordings by trumpeter Donald Byrd, percussionist Airto Moriera, singer Flora Purim, saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and especially Miles Davis’s Live/Evil, which included as cover art a caricature emphasizing his whiteness and massive bouffant hair.

“I had returned to Rio from Canada,” Neto continues, “and was about to leave for the Amazon to do work for my Masters degree. Hermeto had moved to Rio during the years I’d been away, so I went to visit him, just to shake his hand and tell him I thought he was an amazing musician. He caught me off-guard, saying, ‘I need a pianist for this Friday, are you free?’ I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. We spent a week rehearsing, then played the gig with not one tune we’d rehearsed. I was totally hooked. I told him, ‘I’m not going to the Amazon, I’m going to stay with you.”

Neto played in Hermeto’s band for the next 15 years—right up until the time he emigrated to the U.S. in 1993, first as a student, and soon, as a teacher at Cornish. He has participated in Pascoal’s special projects ever since, including conducting an all-star British big band in a four-hour collaborative concert with Hermeto and his ensemble at London’s Barbicon Center in 2011.

Neto had met Paul Taub shortly after arriving at Cornish, and soon became interested in each other’s areas of concentration. “Generally speaking, jazz and classical musics live side by side at Cornish,” flutist Taub reports. “It’s important in our school that the faculty as well as the students are open to crossing the supposed boundaries. I’m not a jazz player—though I improvise—and Jovino is not an established classical player, though he’s better at sight-reading scores than he will admit. That my background is in classical and his originally in rock and jazz makes no difference when we approach Hermeto’s repertoire, which is not easily identifiable by conventional genre labels. The thing is, we make a good team.”

The two demonstrated their teamwork and mastery of Pascoal’s music at the National Flute Association conference in Las Vegas last summer, where they presented a lecture/recital and performed Taub’s partial transcription of a long bass flute solo Hermeto improvised as an interlude to his orchestral composition Suite Pixitotinha.  Also on the Seattle program will be Cannon (Dedicated to Cannonball Adderley) from his late ‘70s album Slaves Mass. They’ll play that at PONCHO Concert Hall, with Santos Neto triggering the electronic sounds Hermeto originally derived from heartbeats.

Other features in the Cornish concert include Santos Neto’s Agradecendo, a Hermeto-inspired composition for two flutes and piano (with the optional third flute part played by the composer); an odd double for an American jazz musicians, but not uncommon in Brazil, which he premiered in concert at Symphony Space in New York City in 2010, and Hermeto’s piece for flute tentet Suite Mundo Grande.

“The 10-flute piece, with eight C flutes, an alto flute and a bass flute, is very joyful, and cacophonous,” says Taub. “The ending chord of one of the three movements includes a cluster of ten of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. It sounds like a circus or a fair—happy, jagged and fairly short, like a lot of Hermeto’s fully notated works. It’s only eight or nine minutes in all. Playing it with my current and former students makes it even more of a treat for me.”

Neto is equally enthusiastic. “Hermeto is a consummate flute player,” he says. “He knows the inside and the outside of the instrument, and his melodies go from folk songs and lullabies to some stuff that picks up where Scriabin left off and then takes off for other planets.” Hermeto may not be coming to Seattle, but never mind: Neto and Taub intend to take Seattle to Planet Pascoal.


New York-based writer, journalist, and critic Howard Mandel is a veteran contributor to DownBeat magazine and president of the Jazz Journalists Association.

Hear the Unknown Flute Music of Hermeto Pascoal at Cornish on Friday, February 15th at 8:00 pm. Tickets: $20 general; $15 seniors; $10 students and Cornish alumni.


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