Composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal has been a legendary Brazilian jazz musician for more than two decades. Despite recordings with Miles Davis and Airto Moriera as well as performances with the likes of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin, however, he has remained relatively obscure to the wider American audience.
Pascoal's appearance with a six-piece band at At My Place on Friday night illustrated, as his programs almost always do, just how much that wider audience is missing.
Pascoal was a sheer vision--a rotund, white-haired, furry- bearded, albino version of Jerry Garcia. For this trip, he eschewed the flutes, saxophones, accordion and percussion that he sometimes plays and stayed positioned behind a synthesizer keyboard at the center of a nonstop whirlwind of musical rhythm and energy.
The pieces--all fairly new, and all unannounced except for a brief exhortation in Portuguese from Pascoal to "just enjoy the music"--underscored the fact that he should be considered one of the important jazz composers of his era. Ranging from dancing sambas to straight-ahead funk, twisting in and out of off-beat meters, serving up a blend of ensemble timbres that delivered near-orchestral textures, the Pascoal compositions were astonishingly diverse.
His keyboard playing was the nucleus from which everything else was generated. The sounds changed constantly: thick multi-overtone densities contrasting with sampled animal calls and soaring, flute-like melodies. Pascoal's improvised lines were played with the rhythm-driven vigor and urgent creativity of a first-rate jazz keyboardist. It was the performance of a musical master. What a shame that he was only here for one night.