Do Savannnah

Review: A lesson in Brazilian music with masters Hermeto Pascoal and Danilo Brito

  • Hermeto Pascoal
  • Danilo Brito (Photo by Kika Fragatte)

Review: A lesson in Brazilian music with masters Hermeto Pascoal and Danilo Brito

10 Apr 2017

I have to admit, I chose to review this concert not because I had a tremendous wealth of knowledge about Brazilian music, but rather because I didn’t.

My only point of reference prior to this concert was Stan Getz, who arguably just appropriated Brazilian music ideas in the much-loved and popular Bossa Nova stylings. Much like Elvis and the Brits who followed did with African-American music through rock ’n’ roll, Getz helped popularize Brazilian music in the 1950s and ‘60s in white America.

Part of the Savannah Music Festival’s operating principal is to educate. I ventured into this concert in hopes of learning something. Afterward, I fell into a black hole of Google searches and program notes on Brazilian music. I am infatuated now.

Danilo Brito is a rock star. Surrounded by a quintet of exceptional musicians, Brito nearly stole the night from Hermeto Pascoal on April 5 at the Lucas Theatre. Prior to this concert, I had no knowledge of choro music. My initial thoughts were how varied the influences of this music were. I heard Spanish, Italian, Irish, Scottish, African and Mediterranean stylings in Brito’s quintet. According to the festival’s programming notes, which I read afterward, I wasn’t that far off.

“The music of Brazil is as diverse as that of any nation, with influences ranging from European dance forms to indigenous folk styles and African rhythms, classical music and jazz,” the program reads.

After Carlos Moura, one of Brito’s fine bandmates, busted a cranky G-string on his seven-string guitar, Brito kindly dismissed the entire band from the stage. Through a lovely interchange with an interpreter, Brito charmed her and everyone else with some scattered stage banter.

Giving his band a break so Moura could fix his broken string, Brito delivered an unplanned, impromptu solo performance of Luperce Miranda’s “Quando Me Lembro” that might have been one of the most fantastic solo performances I’ve ever witnessed. It garnered a standing ovation.

The song is as beautiful as the title sounds when spoken, which is a charming characteristic of romantic languages. Brito’s performance was a sheer display of his virtuosic musicianship and every other cheap accolade I can bestow in words that will always fall short.

Hermeto Pascoal’s concert, the 80-year-old’s U.S. debut, was as much a lesson in noise-makers as it was an education in music. It was immediately notable how he and his extraordinary band were echoing the sounds of nature. His entire band opened the show with a loosely coordinated tune created by blowing into half-empty beer bottles. Each was double-fisting, making for an orchestra of half-bottled sounds. Pascoal, apparently, prefers wine, though, as we all later found out.

Pascoal’s table of magical noise-makers was completed with several dog toys, a horn that sounded like a duck fart (the most beautiful duck fart you can imagine), a cane-shaped bass flute and a host of other toys and unusual instruments, including his own mouth. He even snored “Happy Birthday” to us, literally.

Traditional instruments was also present, of course. In the array was tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, piccolo and flute, all played by Joao P. Barbosa, as well as electric bass (Itibere Zwarg), drums (Ajurina Zwarg), piano (Andre Marques) and plenty of additional percussion handled rather wonderfully by Pascoal’s son, Fabio Pascoal.

Throughout Pascoal’s concert, which featured his highly talented band more than it did himself, there was a through line to each composition. While each player worked on their own trajectory, they centered whatever they were creating around a single element that was either rhythmic or melodic, reminding me a lot of free jazz, but with more soul.

An astronomer released several videos recently that showed a new model of our solar system and its route through the galaxy. While the videos sparked some controversy about heliocentric models (a conversation I’ll avoid here), there was something striking about the graphics that perhaps was the reason they were so wildly enjoyed on the internet of things.

Typically, we see a static sun with planets in orbit. But the truth is, the entire solar system is actually in motion together around the center of the galaxy, which is also in forward motion. Coursing through empty space and time, the planets revolve around the sun in more of a screwdriver fashion in this new model, as the sun barrels toward its inevitable end in a few billion years.

What I heard in Pascoal’s music was exactly that model. The sun, a single musical concept, creating a through line by which everything else revolves, sometimes in front of or behind, but always bound in gravitational motion. I feel like I heard what the universe probably looks like. I don’t think that is a coincidence.

Call me sentimental, but I think Pascaol has simply tapped into the spiritual rhythm that binds us all. His music, as with Brito, is human and universal.

Later that night, I crawled into bed under some beautiful thunderstorms, as most of us did. With two mini-tigers, known domestically as housecats, cuddled up around me, I listened to the rain on a tin roof just outside my window and a fan spinning above.

Not long after hitting the pillow, the rain began to make music. I heard the same rhythmic patterns and melodies from the concert reverberating in nature around me. Pascoal became clear to me, and the lesson seemed to complete itself naturally.