New York Times
- New York - 2/11/2004

by: Jon Pareles

Playful Complexities via Zany Professor

Hermeto Pascoal was like a mad professor - part cerebral, part zany - when he performed at the Allen Room of Jazz at Lincoln Center on Friday night. Mr. Pascoal has been a well-known musician in his native Brazil since the 1960's, and a band member and composer for Miles Davis's 1970 album "Live/Evil." He has written music for conventional and unconventional ensembles, from orchestras to jazz combos to animal sounds to found instruments, cheerfully mingling melody and noise.
With his long white hair and beard and his cartoon-bright clothes, Mr. Pascoal was both composer and clown at the Allen Room. He walked on stage tootling on two water bottles, and he performed " 'Round Midnight" with a trumpet mouthpiece on the spout of a teakettle. Then his group joined him, and the music turned more complex and premeditated.
From his huge inventory of compositions, Mr. Pascoal chose pieces with modernist harmonies and extended melodies, like Stravinsky and Wayne Shorter via Brazil. The tunes, stated with boundless joviality by Vinicius Dorin on saxophones, took all sorts of zigzag paths, often setting out a long line and then repeating it.

While that method sometimes grew schematic, the rhythm section never did. Andre Pereira Marques on piano, Mr. Dorin on saxophones, Fabio da Silva Pascoal on percussion and Marcio Villa Bahia on drums batted around thick chords and endless rhythmic crossfire. They could swing with the limber intensity of mid-1960's jazz or hurtle toward free-jazz furors, and they were also in touch with Brazilian rhythms like samba and baião. Partway through the set, the quintet bounced pairs of metal tubes against the floor in syncopations that suggested African balafon music sent to carnival.
The quintet, joined by an unannounced female singer who scat-sang alongside the saxophone, played much of the set with Mr. Pascoal simply supervising. When he did join in, it was usually as a jester: making his keyboard play sampled barks and meows, turning his voice into rasps and whoops as he sang with his keyboard solo, leading an audience singalong. Mr. Pascoal's music encompasses sizable bodies of knowledge - jazz, European classical music, Brazilian pop - but he's happy to make it sound like playtime.

Cyro Baptista's Beat the Donkey, which opened the show, had a larger arsenal of junk and instruments. The 11 musicians deployed an international assortment of percussion - along with occasional guitar, saxophone and keyboard - for a set of songs and rhythm workouts that covered Brazil, the Americas and beyond. When members seated themselves before tuned gongs to play gamelan music, an Indonesian dancer in full costume appeared; there was also tap dancing and the acrobatics of Brazilian capoeira. In silly hats and motley costumes, Beat the Donkey had showmanship and timing to match its globe-hopping rhythms.

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