Some may know Brazilian multi-instrumentalist as the legally-blind albino who once punched Miles Davis in the face. Others may recognize Pascoal as the genius who contributed three compositions to Live-Evil, and who the Prince of Darkness himself called, “one of the most important musicians on the planet.” Miles wasn’t exaggerating. Far Out Recordings has been issuing previously unreleased material from Pascoal, and the latest set, Planetário da Gávea, a 1981 concert recording, is the most thrilling yet; call it Live Magic.
The CD’s opening track sets a high that’s nearly impossible to match. “Paz Amor e Esperança / Homônimo Sintróvio” begins with a restrained arrangement of bowed bass, piano and harmonium, creating a drone that seems to be setting a trap for the Earth. Jovino Santos Neto’s harmonium goes at first for something somber, then romantic, with Itiberê Zwarg’s bass seeming to weep. After several minutes of patient introduction, the pace picks up, the Two drummers, Zé Eduardo Nazario and Marcio Bahia, start to fly, and then the rest of the band follows suit. The tension is fantastic as the planet, and Pascoal’s band, opens up, bursting out of introspection into a psychedelic vamp, and something seems to be released when Zwarg drops the bow and begins fevered interplay with Pascoal’s soaring piano. The simmering intensity flows and ebbs over the course of 33 minutes, the leader shifting to flute around the 12-minute mark with a solo that begins to make you understand why he was called “The Sorcerer.”
This is an infectious conjuring indeed, and when you consider the concert hall where this was recorded, you can imagine the audience levitating: Planetário da Gávea was named after the venue, a Rio de Janeiro planetarium, and Pascoal rose to the occasion of this majestic venue. Now, one could attempt a method-review of the concert and order a star projector to cast laser-constellations and swirling faux-Northern Lights to approximate the very specific mood, and that enhances the experience even more, but you don’t need the light show to feel the fire of a music that’s at once rhythmic, melodic and mind-expanding–and the party’s just starting.
After that masterful opening, the set gets relatively settled with the only 14-minute mid-tempo ballad “Samba do Belaqua,” a feature for Pascoal’s big tenor saxophone sound. A note on the sound: this release was sourced from a cassette recording, with the shagginess that suggests, but the tape was carefully mastered and restored, so while this doesn’t have the clarity of a professional studio, instruments are clearly distinguishable, and the limitations of the recording evoke the impressive room in its own way: using a tiny machine to capture such a huge experience seems like just the right way to honor this music.
Pascoal is credited on piano, baritone horn, tenor saxophone, flute and vocals, and he plays each tool like an incantation. On the nine-minute “Bombardino,” all he needs is a mouthpiece which he uses for a wild call-and-response with himself. All that activity requires some break time. The band sits out for Pascoal’s solo piano at the start of “São Jorge / Ilza na Feijoada” before coming back in earnest. The two drummers get their showcase on nine minutes’ worth of “Duo de Bateras,” and they generate their own flame, but this was probably a good time for concert-goers to use the facilities. The CD set closes with the psychedelic samba “Jegue,” which starts out with another Pascoal piano solo but builds into another gorgeously fevered celebration, albeit one that only lasts 10-and-a-half minutes.
Due to space constraints (a full vinyl set would run to three lps), Planetário da Gávea comes in very two different sequences, and while the two-disc vinyl album probably sounds great, the two-CD version is the one to get—it’s the only physical format where you can hear the stunning 33-minute opener in its complete glory. And, although the pacing flags at time—the band is only human—this is truly glorious.