Hermeto Pascoal’s Big Band

TONY COOPER Norfolk and Norwich Festival event at St Andrew's Hall, Norwich


This 68-year-old Brazilian jazz icon – looking distinctly like a wizard from a Tolkien novel, sporting a mass of flowing white hair and beard to match, topped by a trilby – soon gained the respect and attention of an adoring audience.

It was an exciting start to the ten-day Norfolk and Norwich Festival programme by Peter Bolton, who, sadly, exits the event after a five-year stint.

Pascoal is regarded as the king of Brazilian music and it's easy to see why. He breathes fire and everything else into his performance and enjoys playing on anything from old kitchen utensils to more conventional instruments, such as keyboard and flute.

But when he gargled – if that's the word – into a glass of water to a hand-held mike, playing against a vibrant and exciting Latin rhythm section, you were witnessing a unique (and eccentric) jazzman at work and one who's got rhythm flowing through his veins. He's not nicknamed the 'sorcerer' for nothing!

He was joined on stage by his old friend and collaborator, pianist/conductor Jovino Santos, as well as his son, Fabio, on percussion, together with some of the UK's finest musicians. They included sax player Julian Siegel and trumpeters Henry Lowther and Claude Deppa, who both put in some growling, syncopated solos from the back line.

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The trumpet section, playing high against the frontline row of aggressive saxes, echoed for me Stan Kenton's great wall of sound – another great bandleader who appeared in the same hall in the 1950s – and activated the decibel level light that it glowed throughout the evening.

Pascoal raised the stakes in what a big band is all about and those that attended his Norwich debut will remember it for a long while to come.

I overheard a young girl say that St Andrew's Hall seemed a crazy place for jazz but close your eyes and you could be partying down in Rio. I'll drink to that!

The concert was sponsored by railway operator 'one', whose predecessor had been principal sponsor of the festival since 1985. This really is a case of business and the arts coming together for the benefit and wellbeing of the community.