Hermeto Pascoal is a globally renowned Brazilian composer, arranger, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist. In addition to conventional instruments, he uses tea cups, wood, and hundreds of found objects to create sound. His work crisscrosses virtually all Brazilian folk styles with jazz, classical, funk, and MPB. With a massive head of white hair (he's albino), Pascoal is respectfully known as "Bruxo" ("sorcerer"). He worked with Airto Moreira on the legendary Quarteto Novo in 1967, and Moreira and Flora Purim co-produced his debut, Hermeto, in 1971. Pascoal also played on Miles Davis' Live Evil. Bruxo's iconic trilogy from the decade includes 1977's Slaves Mass, 1979's Zabumbê-bum-á, and 1980's Cérebro Magnético. He self-released the eponymous debut by Hermeto Pascoal & Su Grupo and the seminal Brasil Universo in 1986. 2006's Chimarrão com Rapadura and 2010's Bodas de Latão featured collaborations with vocalist Aline Morena. Pascoal signed with England's Far Out in 2016, which put out an unreleased 1976 studio session, Viajando Com O Som, in 2017. Pascoal issued the previously unreleased and archival Hermeto Pascoal E Sua Visão Original Do Forró on Brazil's Scubidu Music. A previously unreleased 1981 E Grupo performance and a thoroughly remastered reissue of 1971's Hermeto both appeared in 2022
Pascoal was born in 1936 in Lagoa da Canoa, a small town in northeastern Brazil. He started with flute lessons at eight. At 11, he began playing his father's sanfona (an eight-button accordion). His father used to play at parties. but Pascoal had advanced so much in just three months that his dad quit: he was too embarrassed to play with his son, who now bested him on the instrument.
Pascoal further developed his sound at his grandfather's blacksmith shop, where he found pieces of iron and hit them trying to create music. He performed at dances and forrós as a bandleader in the region around Arapiraca. At 14, his family moved to Recife, and Pascoal began earning money performing live on radio programs in a group with his keyboardist brother, Jovino José Dos Santos Neto. At this stage, Pascoal had a fevered desire to learn any musical instrument he came across, and subsequently mastered piano, bass, reeds, winds, and many percussion and stringed instruments.
In 1958, he moved to Rio, working with the Regional de Pernambuco do Pandeiro, Fafá Lemos Group, and Orquestra do Copinha. In 1961, he moved to São Paulo, playing in several nightclubs there. Already playing brass and wood instruments, he formed the group Som Quatro and later, he and Sivuca put together an accordion trio called O Mundo em Chamas.
Pascoal developed an idiosyncratic approach to composition and arrangement. For him, tones in and of themselves presented a stronger conduction motif than chord connections, scales, or modes. He began to understand music as a primal force of nature itself, emanating organically from everything in earth; his approach -- at least esthetically -- recalls the theory behind Johannes Kepler's music of the spheres.
Though he made appearances on recordings as early as 1958 with artists including Edu Lobo, Elis Regina, and Cesar Camargo, it was his short-lived Sambrasa Trio (he served as pianist) with drummer Airto Moreira and bassist Humberto Clayber that established him as a headliner. Rather than pursue music with that trio, he joined Moreira's innovative bossa group Trio Novo (with guitarists Heraldo do Monte and Théo de Barros) in 1966. As Quarteto Novo, they developed a progressive re-invention of northeastern song styles including baixo, xaxado, and other northeastern rhythms in jazzy arrangements in 4/4 time with modern harmonies. Their eponymous Quarteto Novo, released in 1967, was a hit: it brought these traditional musics into the modern era and won several awards in Brazil. Subsequently, it launched the international careers of Pascoal and Moreira. In 1969, Pascoal appeared on the lone, self-titled album by Brazilian progressive jazz group Brazilian Octopus, and contributed compositions to Antonio Carlos Jobim's hit album Tide, and a year later, Stone Flower.
In 1970 Moreira and vocalist/composer/spouse Flora Purim invited Pascoal to New York City to do session work on the percussionist's first solo album, Natural Feelings. The married couple then scored him a deal with Cobblestone and co-produced 1971's Hermeto. The star-studded date included appearances by everyone from Gil Evans and Thad Jones to Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, and Garnett Brown. Pascoal also contributed two songs and his instrumental skills to Miles Davis' seminal Live Evil: "Little Church" and "Nem Um Talvez." Davis had picked 11 of Pascoal's compositions for inclusion, but the Brazilian wanted to release his own solo album so he only allowed Davis the use of two. The tunes were originally credited to Davis, but Bruxo claimed that was the record company's error, not the trumpeter's. In an interview, Davis called Pascoal "the most important musician on the planet."
Pascoal drew raves both for his extraordinary improvisational abilities in concert and for his idiosyncratic and original compositions. In addition to working with Davis, Pascoal also appeared on Donald Byrd's influential Electric Byrd in 1971 and Moreira's Seeds on the Ground: The Natural Sounds of Airto. In 1973, he toured through the U.S. and Mexico, and recorded A Música Livre de Hermeto in Brazil for Sinter (it was purchased and reissued by Fontana more than a decade later). The Association of Critics of São Paulo (APCA) awarded him Best Soloist. He toured the U.S. again in 1974 and his song "Porco na Festa" won the Best Arrangement Award at the Globo Network's Festival Abertura. In 1976, Pascoal played on the Moreira-produced Amazonas by Cal Tjader, Purim's Open Your Eyes You Can Fly, and Sergio Mendes & Brasil 77's Home Cooking.
In 1977, Pascoal guaranteed his place in jazz history with his Slaves Mass for Warner Bros. Recorded in Los Angeles, the set wed a veritable who's-who of top-shelf Brazilian jazz players with North Americans including co-producers Moreira and Purim, Alphonso Johnson, Raul De Souza, Ron Carter, David Amaro, and Chester Thompson. The set won international acclaim for its inspired performances, and in particular for Pascoal's detailed, multi-layered compositions. (The bandleader played everything from flute and guitar to melodica soprano saxophone, and organ). Later that year he again joined Purim on her album Encounter. In 1979, after touring the globe, Ao Vivo Montreux Jazz was released by Atlantic, followed by the seminal studio offering Zabumbê-bum-á, recorded the previous year with the same band. The innovative set also included guest vocal performances by his parents. In 1980, Pascoal issued the warmly inviting, far-ranging free jazz album Cerebro Magnetico. He played more than a dozen instruments on the set. Some of his sidemen included Jovino Santos Neto on piano and keys, and bassist Itiberé Luiz Zwarg.
In early 1981, Pascoal assembled the supergroup that would last more than a decade. Hermeto Pascoal & Su Grupo comprised Zwarg, Neto, guitarist Heraldo Do Monte, saxist/flutist Carlos Malta, and percussionists Marcio Bahia and Pernambuco (Antonio Luis de Santana); Pascoal played more than dozen instruments, sang, arranged, and composed. They practiced more than nine hours per day, seven days a week. They played many shows, most of them free, establishing a large following in Rio. Their debut album, Hermeto Pascoal & Su Grupo, was issued by Som Da Gente in 1982. It was widely celebrated in Brazil, but the band didn't tour much outside South America. In 1984 they followed with Lagoa Da Canoa Municipio of Arapiraca, titled for the bandleader's birth place. Brasil Universo appeared in 1986 and charted inside the Top 15 at home and entered the Top Five with 1987's jazz-funk classic Só Não Toca Quem Não Quer. Pascoal released the solo piano outing Por Diferentes Caminhos to global acclaim in 1988.
In 1989, he played on Robertinho Silva's hit Bodas De Prata, and began an intense period of arranging and composing work that would keep him occupied into the next decade. He played on albums by Maria Bethania, Purim, Elis Regina, and Vera Figueiredo.
In 1992, Hermeto Pascoal & Su Grupo issued their final album, Festa Dos Deuses, on Phillips. That year, Pascoal was a co-billed featured guest on the Daniel Guggenheim Group's Strange Beauty for Jazz Network and worked on the sessions resulting in Sergio Mendes' Brasileiro. In 1996, Pascoal worked with Mendes again on Oceano, and with Joyce Moreno on Ilha Brasil. He was awarded the Prêmio Sharp as Best Arranger for the Duo Fel CD Kids of Brazil. The same year, he received the Prêmio Ary Barroso. In 1999, he released Eu E Eles on which he played all instruments.
In February 2000, Pascoal issued Solos do Brasil in collaboration with guitarist Sebastião Tapajós and pianist Gilson Peranzzetta. That April, Pascoal toured the U.S., and The Boston Globe, reviewing one of his American performances, commented: "With equal parts virtuosity and eccentricity, Pascoal's sextet gave the rare example of a band that actually earned its standing ovation."
Continuing to tour, mentor, and compose, Pascoal supervised reissues of his catalog over the next several years, including an official, remastered release of Mundo Verde Esperança in 2002 with several different tracks and a very different mix than the pirated original. He was the subject of 2003's Serenata: The Music of Hermeto Pascoal, by Mike Marshall and Jovino Santos Neto, and contributed to the sessions. In 2006, he released Chimarrão Com Rapadura, the first of two collaborations with multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aline Morena. The second was 2010's Bodas de Latão. 2013's The Monash Sessions, was recorded while serving as artist in residence at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music. Pascoal moved from Curitiba, Paraná and returned to the Jabour neighborhood in Bangu, Rio.
In 2017, he released the universally acclaimed double-length, No Mundo Dos Sons, the first offering in 15 years to reunite O Grupo. He also signed a deal with England's Far Out label for the purpose of issuing unreleased music from his vast tape archive, and to supervise reissues of catalogue titles.
That November Viajando Com O Som (The Lost '76 Vice Versa Studio Session) marked his debut with Far Out, the label's 200th release. These recordings were the stuff of Brazilian music myth. The original record came about as the result of a wildly successful Teatro Bandeirantes appearance by the group. Pascoal booked two days at Rogério Duprat's Vice Versa Studios in São Paulo, with his "Paulista" rhythm section -- Zé Eduardo Nazario (drums), Zeca Assumpção (bass), and Lelo Nazario (electric piano) -- as well as saxophonists Mauro Senise, Raul Mascarenhas and Nivaldo Ornelas, with guitarist Toninho Horta and vocalist Aleuda Chaves. Engineer Renato Viola understood the urgency of the sessions as Pascoal attempted to capture the almost spiritual connection the musicians arrived at on the theater stage. Almost all of the first-take material remained in the final mix. After mixdown, Nazario asked Viola to make him a copy of the collected sessions, machine to machine. The master was shelved; Pascoal's restlessness and prolific activity dictated he move on to other projects -- the classic Slaves Mass would appear in 1977. The master tape was eventually lost. However, Nazario retained his first-generation copy in his own studio's archives, where it sat for more than 40 years. Given that it was recorded during Brazil's golden age, the record was greeted with universal critical acclaim.
The following year, Pascoal was a featured, co-billed guest on Zwarg's Universal Music Orchestra for Biscoito Fino. In 2018, he served again as a co-billed collaborator on British saxophonist Sean Khan's charting Palmares Fantasy on Far Out and on Maria Toro's Araras on Jazz Activist. In 2019, Brazil's Scubidu Music issued the previously unreleased Hermeto Pascoal E Sua Visão Original Do Forró, an archival date cut during a single day in 1999 with an all-star cast that included vocalists Marina Elali, João Claudio Moreno, and Alceu Valença, along with several musicians from the studio band that became Su Grupo. The celebrated set focused on Pascoal's deep love of the folk song and dance style of forró with a jazzy twist.