London Jazz Festival: Hermeto Pascoal
Garry Booth reviews Hermeto Pascoal at the Barbican, 20 November 2011
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Oh, of course, Brazilians = football. The reviewer resorts to a tired cliché in the first sentence and then proceeds to dismiss the British musicians out of hand throughout. Having compared the gig to an adversarial sport, Garry Booth then makes the casual assertion that the British band were "inevitably a little mechanical". Why inevitably? He might have considered the actual material being played by each group, i.e. music scored for large ensemble as against music intended for a small group of soloists. Was it that the British players interpretation of the written music was mechanical, or that the he considered the big band material, in comparison with the small group repertoire, to be mechanical? A basic working knowledge of any renowned jazz composer's output would confirm a significant difference between small group and big band repertoire; Sam Rivers, John Taylor and Django Bates come immediately to mind. Hermeto's big band music is highly organized, (even the sections for squeaky toys and coconuts were written out) and generally scored for choirs of brass and reeds in the conventional way of block voicing, although with very unconventional harmonic language. This organization of the instruments is conveyed to the band through the printed parts. Mr Booth reports that the British band were "glued to the charts"; this is known in music as "reading". Is he suggesting that the band should abandon the parts in order to take part in a less mechanical, presumably more authentic fashion? It is possible that the 19 British musicians might have been used differently, and that is a matter for the promoter, composer and arranger - however Mr Booth chooses to belittle the "doughty" musicians themselves, who did the difficult but rewarding job asked of them to a very high standard. Hermeto and his fantastic band were extremely warm and complimentary about the British band, both in private and on stage throughout the entire gig. One can only conclude that the referee has had a shocker - 2000 people could see what happened and he seems to have totally missed it. Clearly there is a need for better understanding and higher professional standards or the game will be ruined in this country.
I didn't recognize this concert based on Garry Booth's review. It is irksome when a reviewer builds a review around a not particularly imaginative conceit like concert as football match. But it's worse when he doesn't seem to know much about either football ("loose-tight cohesion?) or music ( yes, sight reading means you need to look at the music). I've had the privilege of playing with Chris Batchelor myself in the past and a player of his skill and emotional depth doesn't become labored because he is reading from a sheet, any more than a well-trained classical musician (yes, Garry they are not reading the papers, they have scores to read too). I won't get into a blow-by-blow account of my differences with this review as I honestly don't mean to dispute Garry's right to his opinion, but I don't think anyone who has ever picked up an instrument or knows Chris's work and the caliber of people he works with will agree with it.
The musicians here seem to be a little over-sensitive towards the writer's comments. I think we all know what the writer means by loose-tight cohesion. It is nice he puts it in terms non-musicians as well can understand and the analogy to football might be clichéd, but isn't so out of order as their comments suggest. I think there is also an overreaction to the point that they were 'mechanical' as he does temper it with 'inevitably compared' to the Brazilian musicians who have been at it a long time. What's wrong with that? The writer puts it into context at least. And 'doughty' doesn't have to be read as belittling here, does it? - this and the band 'held their own' could be read as you done a good job. Take it on the chin boys, Hermeto was the star of this one.