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Listening Report: Vinyl Reissue Of Brilliant Lost 1976 Hermeto Pascoal Session Underscore’s The Wizard’s Vision To Support Brazilian Music, Musicians

Mark Smotroff has an “ah ha” moment…


Have you ever had one of those moments when you are reading something new and all of a sudden, other details you know about a particular subject coalesce into something bigger than you ever imagined?  I had one of those moments recently when Far Out Recordings graciously sent me a review copy of Viajando Com O Som, the lost 1976 studio album by Hermeto Pascoal and his band Grupo Vice Versa. The album was issued in 2017 but has been recently reissued on a lovely opaque green vinyl pressing (which is happily very quiet and well centered).

One feature I find incredibly important about physical music releases — one which gives them a distinct advantage over most streaming services — is not just the sound quality but also the inclusion of quality liner notes. And it was from these liner notes that one of the puzzle pieces about Hermeto’s career trajectory came into focus for me.  I have long wondered why this highly respected musician who Miles Davis once described as “the most impressive musician in the world” was relatively unknown here in America, arguably one of the largest music marketplaces in the world?  Few of his albums have been released here and most are long out of print (1977’s Slaves Mass on Warner Brothers was probably his highest visibility issue here)

Well, I know that everything that happens in history (and life for that matter) has multiple causes. So the liner notes to Viajando Com O Som reveal at least one more detail indicating that “O Bruxo” (aka “The Wizard,” as he is known in some circles) chose to go back to his native Brazil after a period of activity here in the U.S. to focus on making music there.  So that can at least in part explain how a musician who notably appeared on Miles Davis’ Live Evil album (which includes several of his songs) left to to pursue a noble dream he had: “to create a musical group under his name to start a revolution…” (according to the liner notes)

Wanting to create a constant ensemble that could flourish is a noble quest. However, that he chose to do this in Brazil made this task braver and no doubt more challenging than it appears on the surface. We are reminded in the liner notes that Brazil was ruled under a military dictatorship which made pulling together these musicians and releasing the music no doubt a massive undertaking.  

A Side Note: Recently, a Brazilian music fan in a Facebook vinyl enthusiast group responded to one of my posts — which was about how elusive Hermeto’s music is to find here in the United States — explaining that his albums are actually not easy to find even there! After reading these liner notes, that makes a great deal of sense. Those musicians were living in an oppressive society so I’d imagine that it took a lot of effort to get records into the stores there even if you were able to get things together enough to actually record an album.  

Anyhow, Hermeto and his band Grupo no doubt soldiered onward and recorded Viajando Com O Som (which means “Journey With Sound”) at a Sao Paulo studio called Vice-Versa in just two days. This fact makes this album all the more remarkable as these recordings feature performances from a well oiled band that sounds tight as if they had been touring together for ages. 

So what does this music sound like?  Well, I have used this description of some of Hermeto’s music before and it applies here: imagine if Chick Corea and Frank Zappa got together to record in Brazil.  I’m particularly referring to Zappa from in his jazz-fusion period of Hot Rats, Waka/Jawaka and even some of The Grand Wazoo meshed with some of the sensibilities of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever (Polydor era especially).  

But I only present those parameters as touchstone flavors to paint a picture with words about what to expect. Hermeto Pascoal & Grupo are distinctly their own entity and the music they make delivers a distinctive Brazilian undercurrent.  

On the opening track “Dança do pajé” Hermeto delivers achingly beautiful melodies and performances largely featuring super expressive flute playing over a wash of Fender Rhodes type electric piano and wind-chime type bells. 

On the haunting “Natal,” percussionist / drummer Zē Eduardo Nazario solos on “Bamboo Harmonic Flute” along with a battery of four other flautists on the album — the track sounds more like it was recorded deep in a Brazilian rainforest than a studio. This is a complement as this piece is pretty amazing, especially toward the lush end sequences. 

But then, on the album side long “Casinha Pequenina,” an exploration of a Brazilian Folklore theme, we hear the band traverse improvisations which roam from funky grooves to whimsical flights of musical fancy to out-and-out free jazz soaring without a net. At times, the Saxophone player (not sure which as there are four in the group!) seems to channel the mad skronk of Ian Underwood (who played Sax on Zappa’s Hot Rats) and then launches out into the ether with his own distinctive beauty and tone. 

Viajando Com O Som is out in the stores now (I even saw a couple copies in the racks at Amoeba Music just yesterday, reminding me it was time to get my review finished up!). Hopefully you’ll be able to find the album easily. It is certainly available online (click on the title anywhere in this review and it will take you to the Amazon page for the album).  

If you want to sample Viajando Com O Som online, you can find it streaming in CD quality on the better services such as Qobuz (click here), Tidal (click here) and Apple Lossless (click here).  But if you like this music you’ll probably want to pick up a copy on vinyl. 

If you’d like to read more about Hermeto’s albums, please click on any of these titles following which will take you to reviews I’ve written thus far including: Planetário Da Gávea,  No Mundo Dos Sons plus British saxophonist Sean Khan’s Palmares Fantasy Featuring Hermeto Pasocal and Airto’s Natural Feelings (which also features Hermeto in the band).

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