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The Norwegian Wind Ensemble conducted by Steffen Schorn, featuring Hermeto Pascoal, Marcio Bahia & Roger Hanschel: Hermeto’s Universe

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Hermeto Pascoal - Hermeto's Universe
Hermeto Pascoal - Hermeto's Universe
Hermeto Pascoal photographed by Mônica Imbuzeiro Agencia O Globo

In matters of art – poetry, drama, music and painting – the “timelessness” of the art in question is effected by the fact that the experience of it is such that it is committed to memory, there to be preserved for one’s lifetime, during which extent it is also passed down for others to experience to such an extent that this process becomes a cycle of events and forms a continuum. The music of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, Berg, Webern, Stravinsky and so on;  the poetry of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot; the drama of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, of Shakespeare; the painting of Cézanne has come to acquire the status of timelessness, as has the music of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Meanwhile it also took supreme effort on the part of musicians of considerable repute – Roswell Rudd, Steve Lacy, Misha Mengelberg, Buell Neidlinger and Frank Kimbrough to resuscitate the pianism of Herbie Nichols to that rarefied realm to which it belongs.

Steffen Schorn directing the Norwegian Wind Ensemble
Steffen Schorn, seen playing tubax at right, directing the Norwegian Wind Ensemble

Meanwhile, to keep the repertoire of such giants of music in Brasil as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Pixinguinha, Tom Jobim, Moacir Santos, Milton Nascimento, Vinicius de Moraes and Egberto Gismonti required similarly enormous effort and investment in study and performance. However, doing likewise for the music of Hermeto Pascoal has always posed unique and significant challenges. His music is so complex; so demanding of those who attempt to interpret and recreate his repertoire that it requires not only instrumental virtuosity, but also the application of such cross-disciplines as comedy, mimicry and pantomime, and – most demanding of all – the ability to inhabit such multiple visual and sonic universes as those all at once; or at least in an ensemble so well-rehearsed as to make every musical utterance sound seamless; or jagged, as the moment of its performance demands. If that sounds complex, it’s because it really is.

But the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, fortuitously guided by Steffen Schorn makes it all sound quite easy. And delightful. Hermeto’s Universe literally re-creates the musical cosmos of O Bruxo by traversing the same seemingly endless cultural topography that Mr Pascoal lives in and brings it to life in his singular symphonic musical metaphor. In fact, to Mr Pascoal, music is the sound of life as he hears it, which he then transposes into a sonic idiom that matches the interior landscape [and soundscape] that he sees [and hears] inside his mind’s ear. The sonic architecture of what emerges manifests itself in a monumental orchestral procession which leads the listener through ever-changing musical scenery accompanied by unique and ever-changing pulsations and rhythms. These, in turn, must be viewed and listened to from ever-evolving perspectives. It is like inhabiting an audio-geographical continuum of time; being exposed to that “time” in multiple dimensions of colour and tone-texture as well.  

The music on these two magnificent discs is characterised by the works’ sombre lyricism – often powerfully muted, but rising at times to vast clusters of shattering climaxes. Mr Pascoal’s ability to imagine – and render – his music in vertical planes that he often stacks five and six-high is quite breathtaking and it is the genius of Steffen Schorn – and the members of the Norwegian Wind Ensemble – to bring all of this multitudinous harmonic palimpsest to life in a manner that constantly reminds us of Mr Pascoal’s unique lyrical gifts – with multiple melodic, harmonic and rhythmical dimensions. On paper, this sounds impenetrable and unattainable, but in performance it is quite magical and eminently enjoyable especially when you let yourself be swept away by Mr Pascoal’s childlike joy that is at the heart of this music. Hitherto, perhaps the only musical associate of Mr Pascoal to have interpreted and championed his music with any degree of success has been Jovino Santos Neto, and this too because of his extremely close relationship with the Brasilian master. But it appears that on evidence from the music of these two discs that Steffen Schorn seems to have benefitted greatly from sharing nearly twenty years of his musical life with Mr Pascoal.

His coming together with saxophonist Roger Hanschel creates the opportunity to translate Mr Pascoal’s uncommon use of counterpoint into some of the most magical musical moments on these discs. Crucially, Mr Schorn’s mastery of the seemingly bottomless depth of the Eb and Bb-tubax instruments adds extreme gravitas and ink-black crepuscular colours to this magnificent music. Moreover, soloists and featured instrumentalists – indeed all members of the Norwegian Wind Ensemble – perform as if having deeply interiorised Mr Pascoal’s sonic conceptions and deliver powerful idiomatic performances in return. In the end Hermeto’s Universe is an excellent musical document, important because of the sheer commitment of all involved, which transports anyone who chooses to listen to the fathomless riches of the music of Hermeto Pascoal; and takes an enormous leap forward effectively setting the proverbial stage for the timelessness of Mr Pascoal’s music .

Track list – Disc One – 1: Ilza Nova; 2: Mentalizando a Cruz; 3: Celso; 4: Quebrando Tudo; 5: Rainha da Pedra Azul; 6: Rebuliço; 7: Música das Nuvens e do Chão; 8: Mente Clara. Disc Two – 1: Ilha das Gaivotas; 2: E Nem da pra Dizer; 3: Uína; 4: A Guaribada da Noite; 5: Tudo Quebreu; 6: O Farol Que nos Guia; 7: Malacunguê; 8: Risada de Felicidade

Personnel – Hermeto Pascoal: prepared piano [Disc One 4, Disc Two 8], piano chair [Disc Two 8]water glass [Disc One 2, Disc Two 1], melodica [Disc Two 7], bass flute [Disc One 7] and voice [Disc Two 5, 8]; Marcio Bahia: drums [Disc One 1, 3, 5, Disc Two 7] and percussion [Disc One 3, 4, Disc Two 5, 7]; Roger Hanschel: sopranino saxophone, soprano saxophone [Disc Two 3], F-mezzosoprano saxophone [Disc One 6, 8, Disc Two 1] and alto saxophone [Disc One 1, 3, 7, Disc Two 7]; Steffen Schorn: C-melody saxophone, baritone saxophone [Disc One 1, 7 Disc Two 3], bass saxophone [Disc One 8], Eb-tubax, Bb-tubax [Disc One 4, 7, Disc Two 5, 7], alto flute, bass flute [Disc One 1, 6 – 8], bass clarinet, contraalto clarinet and harmophon; The Norwegian Wind Ensemble conducted by Steffen Schorn – Inger Johanne Berg: flute; Leyla Peker Nielsen: flute and piccolo; Ingunn Lien Gundersen: oboe; Milan Adamovich: cor anglais; Crister Bergby: bassoon and contraforte [soli Disc One 4, Disc Two 5]; Leann Currie: bassoon; Eirik Jordal: clarinet; Carlos Gay Fernandez: clarinet; Per Harald Molvig: clarinet; Tor-Egill Hansen: bass clarinet; Roar Alnes Aarum: bass clarinet; Geir Holm: saxophone; Kristin Haagensen: saxophone; Britt Kristin Larsen: French horn; Steinar Granmo Nilsen: French horn; Matthias Schriefl: trumpet and piccolo trumpet; Stian Aareskjold: trumpet; Torgeir Haara: trumpet; Tarjei Grimsby: trombone [soli Disc One 3, 7]; Øyvind Brekke: trombone [solo Disc One 7]; Torild Grytting Berg: trombone; Lars Andreas Haug: tuba [soli Disc One 4, 7 Disc Two 5]; André Fjørtoft: marimba [solo Disc One 8], vibraphone and percussion [castanets Disc One 5]; Bjorn Rabben: marimba, vibraphone and percussion [woodblocks Disc Two 5]; Roger Morland: contrabass; Ensemble: collective improvisation [Disc Two 8]

https://youtu.be/62-c0WXzpAs

Released – 2020
Label – Paschen Records [PR 200070]
Runtime – Discs One & Two 1:24:46

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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