20 May 2022: Hermeto in Norwich and more…

Derek is still reeling from the amazing Hermeto Pascoal/National Youth Jazz Orchestra performance at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival on 13 May, so o Bruxo had to be played. Also from Brazil came Quarteto Nova (with Hermeto and Airto) + the wonderful Flora Purim whose new album has just been released. There is also music from Amina Claudine Myers, Noah Howard and our annual presentation of Harry Whitaker’s extraordinary Black Renaissance.

Hermeto Pascoal E Grupo – Samba Do Belaqua from Planetário Da Gávea

In anticipation of this recent UK performance we covered Pascoal in previous shows but it’s worth reflecting again on the influence of this Brazilian musical wizard. His nickname – o Bruxo (the Sorcerer) – is an indication of the extraordinary sounds he derives from conventional and unconventional instruments. He’ll use children’s toys, teapots and even – on one celebrated record – the squeal of pigs. Pascoal grew up deep in the countryside of north east Brazil and, because his albinism prevented him from working in the fields with his family, he practised the accordion for hours each day along with using these found objects to make his unique music. Samba do Belaqua comes from a recent Far Out re-release, Planetário da Gávea. It’s a live recording from 1981 that really captures the Hermeto magic. In Rio’s Gávea neighbourhood and under the dome of the city’s Planetário (or planetarium), Pascoal introduced his new band – simply called O Grupo – who would stay with him for the next eleven years. On board were saxophonist/flautist Carlos Malta, two drummers, Zé Eduardo Nazário and Marcio Bahia, acclaimed keyboard player Jovino Santos Neto on keys, piano and organ, and the great Itiberê Zwarg playing bass. Rounding off the group was the percussionist Pernambuco. During this period (up until the early 90s) the group would rehearse for hours on end, virtually seven days a week, with a total dedication to music and Hermeto’s musical vision. Most of the compositions performed that night at the Planetário had never been recorded before, and many are unique to this album, including Samba Do Belaqua. Miles Davis called Pascoal “one of the most important musicians on the planet” and seeing him live is still an experience like no other.

2. Quarteto Novo – Fica Mal Com Deus from Quarteto Novo/Bossa Jazz Vol. 2

The pioneering Quarteto Novo recorded just one self-titled record (released in 1969) and is noted for launching the careers of both Airto Moreira and Hermeto Pascoal, along with the lesser-known Heraldo Do Monte on guitar and and Theo De Barres on bass. The album was one of the earliest to mix influences from traditional Brazilian folk forms with jazz sensibilities and – thanks to the arranging skills of Pascoal – has a samba feel but mixed with the north eastern baião that Pascoal knew from his childhood. Quarteto Novo’s album has been re-released several times in recent years, most recently in 2014 on the Odeon label out of Brazil. The album ends with a bizarre take on Dori Caymmi’s O Cantador but perhaps the two most famous tunes – both of which have gone on to be recorded by numerous artists – are Ponteio and Misturada. Don’t pass up on this record if you see it – it’s an essential album in anyone’s collection. Fica Mal Com Deus (which is an inversion of God bless you and translates as at odds with God) has also been recorded by a number of Brazilian artists including here by Rosalia de Souza.

3. Flora Purim – Moon Dreams from Butterfly Dreams/Milestone Memories

With a new album just issued, it’s time to check out Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim. Her performance style melds fluid phrasing, slippery jazz harmonics and syncopation with Brazilian rhythms and folk and pop forms. After emigrating to America in 1966, she began working professionally with saxophonist Stan Getz before joining Chick Corea’s original incarnation of his Return to Forever group. Listen to her here on the title track of this essential record. Purim was a ubiquitous collaborator with husband Airto Moreira but she has also recorded with George Duke, Carlos Santana and many others. Born in Rio de Janiero to Jewish emigres from Ukraine and Russia, she and Airto moved to New York in 1967 recording two years later on Blue Note with Duke Pearson for his Brazilian-influenced How Insensitive album. Her Milestone records began with the award-winning Butterfly Dreams which includes Moon Dreams and another take her composition Light as a Feather. All of these Milestone albums are worth exploring and many feature a core band of George Duke on keyboards, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Ron Carter or Stanley Clarke on bass. Her last albums for Milestone (both recorded in 1977) featured Reggie Lucas, Patrice Rushen, McCoy Tyner and – yes – Hermeto Pascoal.  Later recordings included excellent albums like her take on fellow Brazilian Milton Nascimento tunes from 2000 and Perpetual Emotion from the following year. Although there were subsequent live recordings, little was heard from Purim until the release earlier this year of her Strut Records album If You Will. Recorded just six weeks after her 80th birthday, Purim maintains that this will be her last recording. Musicians involved include husband Airto, guitarist Jose Neto and Purim’s daughter Diana. If you can still find it, the BGP compilation of her recordings on the Milestone label is an excellent introduction to her music – and one of the best periods in her extensive recording career.

4. Noah Howard – Creole Girl from Red Star

Here’s two more undersung jazz artists – alto saxophonist Noah Howard and keys play Amina Claudine Myers. Howard was born in New Orleans and brought up in the strong church tradition of the southern states but his jazz leanings were more more to the freer side of things, with Albert Ayler and Frank Wright as influences. Creole Girl is an infectious tune from the 1977 Red Star album – itself typical of some jazz meetings of the time, where an artist from the NY free scene records with Kenny Clarke, one of the very greatest of bop drummers. The rest of the band, including the late Bobby Few on piano, are clearly happy in both contexts and the mix of bop rhythms and the power of free jazz really works. The lengthy title cut, Red Star is excellent – check it out here. The album was reissued but is very difficult to find.

5. Amina Claudine Myers – Christine from The Circle of Time

Born just a year before Howard, Myers has had a longer recording career with her last album being released in 2016. She’s worked with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Arthur Blythe, Lester Bowie and – perhaps most notably – with James Blood Ulmer. Neil is particularly fond of the one record she made with bassist Bill Laswell, Ulmer, Bernie Worrell and Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste, the drummer with The Meters. This one-off group was called The Third Rail Band and their sole album South Delta Space Age is – as they say – as rare as hen’s teeth, although you can download it here from Laswell’s Bandcamp site. The Circle of Time is on the Italian Black Saint label and is a trio set with Don Pate on bass and Thurman Barker on drums. The music has blues and gospel overtones and deserves to be much better known.

6. Black Renaissance – Black Renaissance from Body, Mind and Spirit

This week’s show ends with our annual tradition of playing this truly seminal music. This is an extraordinary amalgam of free, spontaneous and Afrocentric jazz, soul and rap – perhaps the first ever rap recording. was known. The record consists of just two side-long extended tracks – Black Renaissance (side 1) and Magic Ritual (side 2) – and was recorded in one take and (rather fittingly) on Martin Luther King Day in 1976. Producer and pianist Harry Whitaker comments on the record sleeve that “we discussed ideas the night before – just the basics like the bass lines and the drums, but that was it. It was recorded in what I call moment-to-moment.” For many years the tapes were thought to be lost forever, but they they were eventually tracked down in 2002 by the Luv’n’Haight label in California and released on Ubiquity. Whitaker was a pianist, producer, arranger and composer who played and recorded with Roy Ayers and Roberta Flack and had influential jazz friends and contacts and so the record includes Woody Shaw (check out his trumpet solo), Azar Lawrence, Buster Williams, Billy Hart and Mtume. The music is essentially a  map of the African American musical canvas of 1976, with echoes of Sun Ra’s call and response, Coltrane’s tonal meditations and touches of the electronic wizardry of Herbie Hancock’s early 1970s music.  Our view here at Cosmic Jazz is that this is a record everyone needs to own. You can still track down the album on both vinyl and CD but with original Japanese pressings from 1977 topping out at $4,200 USD on Discogs you’ll probably need to go for the Lu’n’Haight label reissue – around $5 USD for the DL on Bandcamp and rather more for both CD and vinyl.

More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

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