- Jovino Santos Neto / keyboards, clavinet and percussion
- Antônio Celso / guitars and mandolim
- Itiberê Zwarg / bass
- Nenê / drums, percussion and keyboards (6)
- Pernambuco / percussion
- Zabelê - vocals, percussion and acoustic guitar (6)
- Mauro Senise / flute and saxophone
- Hermeto Parents (Seu Pascoal & Dona Divina) / vocals (1 and 5)
LP: Warner Bros. Records WB 91 018 (Germany), WEA International Inc .BR 36104 (Argentina)
CD Reissue: 2011 "Coleção Cultural" / Livraria Cultura / Warner
It is often said that Hermeto Pascoal's music is uncharacterizable. This is essentially true. Although you will find his records in the "jazz" section of most record stores lucky enough to stock his albums, he doesn't always fit comfortably there. A musical polymath, he can seemingly play any instrument, including many of his own invention. He may have sat in with Miles Davis (during his most polemical period), inspired Cannonball Adderley and fellow-traveler Airto Morreira, but his music is alternately tightly composed and "free", drifting easily from fusion-esque readings of regional musical traditions from his native Northeast Brasil, to cacophonous bursts of electronics, found sounds, unorthodox instrumentation or heterodox uses of traditional instruments. This album, Zubumbê-bum-a, followed his very important and better-known Slaves Mass album from 1977. It's possible that this record is more "out" than its predecessor, pushing on his avante-gard tendencies while delving deeper into cannibalistic experiments with Nordestino music and including a fair amount of spoken word and poetry. The opening track is an idiosyncratic homage to São Jorge, whose place in Brazilian cosmology cannot be overstated - syncretized with Ogun in the myriad Afrobrazilian religion traditions, patron saint of the city of Rio, he is the protector of warriors, he who vanquishes our adversaries whether ethereal or corporal, the slayer of dragons, but the track is uplifting and breeze-worthy. "Não tem preço não.." there are vocals from Hermeto and Dona Divina, some of them wordless, some of them Hermeto rambling in his unique way in what might be a private oração to São Jorge - "a carreira da nossa é isso... cavalho ligeira" ... his voice is mixed under the music for the most part, giving his actual words kind of a subliminal, secondary importance. And I'll admit this - I have an interview with him that he gave to the famous MPB Especial program, and I can't follow what the hell he's talking about half the time in his free-associative jive talking. Adjectives I've often heard in relation to Hermeto, both in Brazil and abroad - "crazy", "mad genius." I've seen him perform live, only once, and it tended to confirm this reputation. The man is a transnational treasure to humanity. But probably a bonafide nut.
With this pleasant trot on Saint George's steed behind us, the album really takes off with the beguiling "Rede". Beginning slowly with spoken word evoking a lazy afternoon swinging (or rather being swung) on a hammock, and an angular chord progression dominated by Fender Rhodes and flute, developing hypnotically into a crescendo of drums and saxophones dancing circles around the same plodding, angular chord structure. The song moves almost seamlessly into the next, "Pimenteira." This is pretty much full-on jazz fusion in the good sense of that phrase/idea, until breaking down about five minutes into the track into a flute and zabumba jam worthy of the Banda de Pifanos de Caruarú, which lasts for less than a minute before leading back into the main theme. This is as good a place as any to stop and mention an analogy or comparison I've seen about Hermeto: I've read comparisons of him to Frank Zappa, which initially made me wince. This is not necessarily a dis to Frank but simply because I don't like easy comparisons made out of convenience. But it sort of stuck in my craw ever since, and tracks like this make me lend it some credence. This piece wouldn't sound out of place on one of Zappa's instrumental albums from his "Studio Tan" era, and in general Hermeto's sense of fun and levity, albeit with different cultural reference points, in collusion with an infatuation with musique concrete and avant-guardism make this a more productive comparison than I would have anticipated. "Suite Paulistana" is performed entirely by Hermeto via layered overdubs in the studio, a fact I would not have guessed had I not looked at the album jacket. It's a frenetic, free-music approximation of the chaos and incessant movement of Brazil's industrial nerve-center, Sâo Paulo, that sounds for all the world like a group of musicians improvising collectively. How on earth Hermeto managed to record this with overdubs is nothing short of breathtaking, leading to the suspicion that the chaos is actually closely controlled and composed. More Anglophone comparisons here that wouldn't be totally off base might be Henry Cow, a group who similarly straddled lines of jazz improvisation, progressive rock, and the avant-garde, but famously lacked any sense of humor. "Santo Antônio" begins with what is essentially an interview fragment with a "Divína Eulalia de Oliveira", credited with "story and improvising" on the jacket, describing a traditional religious procession probably in the interior of Ceará where Hermeto is from, where a group of people go door to door asking for donations or begging alms on behalf of the saint, asking for kitchen staples, farinha, feijão, arroz, ovos, macaxeira -- "Oi dona da casa! Esmola pra Santo Antônio ... qualquer coisa pra ajudar..". The feast of Saint Anthony is commemorated on June 13, making it part of the month-long series of Festas Juninas that exists with a singularity in Northeast Brazil in ways that it simply does not in the rest of the country. This track has so much of what is magical about Hermeto. Its demonstrably ethnographic, musically cinematic, and cut from an entirely different cloth from the pedantic and ultimately xenophobic traditionalism of the Movimento Armorial, for example, who by the mid 70s were the self-appointed guardians of all things "cultura popular" in the northeast. Hermeto's eclecticism, his mixture of affection and irreverence, must have been anathema to those people.
This little write-up is quickly becoming ungainly and unwieldy so in the interest of wrapping it up, I'll gloss over the next three tracks by saying they are bit more tame, by which I mean *almost* accessible in a conventional sense of jazz fusion but still always coming back to the album's regionalism with fragments of baião mixed in to the stew. Some nice clavinet on Susto, which ends up with bombastic blasts of atonality at the end which are wonderful. Another of Hermeto's skills - diving into atonal waters without alienating the "casual" listener is a pretty unique quality. Not that Hermeto has that many casual listeners. In a somewhat circular way the album closes with a experimental "Mestre Mará", which gives a nod to the music form of maracatu nação (or maracatu baque virado, as distinct from the unrelated form of maracatu 'rural' or baque solto), using one of its common syncopated rhythms along with agogô. But this is quiet and pensive, whereas maracatu nação is performed with large groups of drummers whose pulse you can feel in your gut from three city blocks away. Instead, this quiet and mysterious tone poem seems to deliver us up to a mesa branca in the curtained-off room of a mestre, with the voices of the possessed joining in, suddenly wracked by fits of coughing from the defumação of incense and herbs. It's not frivolous that Hermeto is sometimes called "o bruxo."
paragraph from the back album cover:
"A música pelo músico, sem experiências nem vanguardas, apenas música sentida nota por nota, formando arranjos nos quais os instrumento, num só tempo, convivem e são individualmente explorados, escute."
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