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Why Did I Spend 40 Dollars On One Album By Brazilian Jazz-Fusion Maestro Hermeto Pascoal?

Mark Smotroff has no problem justifying certain expenses…

I recently bought a copy of Hermeto Pascoal’s 1979 album zabumbê-bum-á on a 180-gram vinyl LP reissue. I paid $40 for a single album and I have absolutely zero regrets. The pressing sounds great but is admittedly not perfect with quite a bit of roller-coaster warpage that doesn’t affect the play. It is even wee bit of off center on one side but it fortunately doesn’t impact the playback significantly to the point where I can’t enjoy the music (but I have to acknowledge that it is there).

I don’t care.

This album is amazing as it feels at times like I am hearing a missing link between Frank Zappa and Chick Corea, something I’ve actually thought of once or twice over the years. 

True story: when I was first getting into Chick’s music in the 1970s I wrote to him (he had that address on the back of many of his albums with Return To Forever). Believe it or not, we corresponded a bit, me eventually giving him recommendations on Zappa records to listen to as he said he’d not known where to start on Frank’s music. Somewhere I still have those two or three letters which I cherish.  

When I listen to Hermeto Pascoal’s music I am continually amazed at the effortless brilliance of his at times intensely complex — and simultaneously beautiful — musical ideas and execution, much like the best works by Zappa and Corea. 

Now, some of you may know that I’ve been diving deeper into Pascoal’s catalog which is ridiculously difficult to find in physical form here in America. 

Why this is the case? This music is important and brilliant! He did have an album out on Warner Brothers in the mid ‘70s, which was my introduction to his music, Slaves Mass.  

But after that I went for years not seeing another of his records until I was in New Orleans in January of 2020 and found his great 2018 release with his current band Grupo (click here for that review). This kickstarted my interest and passion in tracking down more of his music on physical media like vinyl LPs and CDs. 

If the comments from one of the fans on the Amazon page for zabumbê-bum-á is accurate, this album was hard to get even in Brazil back in the day and was essentially invisible in the USA and Europe.

Anyhow, for weeks I was contemplating buying zabumbê-bum-á which I saw at Amoeba Music in their “World Music” section. The $42 price tag held me off until I traded some old things in for store credit, so I went for it. 

I’m glad I did as zabumbê-bum-á is a jawdropper.  Musically the album ranges from stunningly beautiful samba-flavored pop jazz melodies (“Sao Jorge”) to whimsical piano-flute-vocal mood pieces (“Rede”) to balls-to-the-wall insanely complex jazz fusion. 

There is even a track here that sounds like what might have happened if Frank Zappa and Chick Corea got together — they’d have probably created a musical love child like Hermeto Pascoal’s “Susto” 

“Suite Paulistana” feels like what might have happened had Edgar Varese and Igor Stravinsky went out partying during Mardi Gras.

I can understand that some of you might not be prepared to plop down 40 bucks on a single album by an artist you don’t know well, if at all.  And that is where some of the streaming services are handy.  You can find zabumbê-bum-á streaming on Tidal in MQA format (click here) and on Spotify (click here). Sadly, its not up on Qobuz. Many others of Pascoal’s albums are up there on these streaming services so do check them out. 

I know I’m gushing a bunch here but what else can I say?

I get extra enthusiastic when I’m excited about something new I’ve discovered which I want everyone I know to hear.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get excited by this too!

Following are some YouTube clips of two of my favorites on the album so far including a live version of them both in a medley!

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