Jovino’s Alchemy

Last December, when Brazzil interviewed composer, flautist,
and keyboardist Jovino Santos Neto, he spoke about his 15 year tenure as
a producer and member of Hermeto Pascoal’s O Grupo as well as his work
with Airto and Flora Purim’s group, Fourth World. We discussed his
mission to disseminate the music of his mentor (Hermeto Pascoal) by means
of cataloging and publishing Pascoal’s enormous body of work and about
Jovino’s role as a college music teacher, symphony orchestra conductor,
arranger, solo pianist, and band leader.

Many developments have taken place for this multi-faceted musician over
the past nine months, and keeping in contact with him has been a little
difficult. Jovino was either in London recording with Airto, touring
Europe with Fourth World, working with Hermeto in Rio, creating soundscapes
on the North Dakota plains, opening the show for Marisa Monte in
San Francisco, or putting the finishing touches on his spellbinding new
CD, Caboclo—his first release as a group leader. Jovino was
about to retreat for a well-earned two week vacation with his family when
I caught him at his home in Seattle, Washington state. There was
much to talk about.

In June you were in Brazil working with Hermeto. How is Mestre
Hermeto? What are his latest ventures?

Hermeto is doing great. When he turned 60 in June 1996, he had
this inspiration to write one tune a day for a whole year, and he did exactly
that. He showed me this pile of new music. Each sheet was
dated and numbered, and every composition was different from the others.
He completed this mission on the day after his performance at Central
Park, in New York City, on June 22, 1997. He never skipped a day!

Which members of O Grupo did Hermeto bring to New York City for the
Summerstage concerts?

The players in O Grupo who came to New York were Vinícius Dorim
(sax/flute), André Gomes (piano), Itiberê Zwarg (bass), Márcio
Bahia (drums), Fábio Pascoal (percussion), and Hermeto on everything
else. Pernambuco (percussion) is still in the band, only he did not come
to the U.S. this time.

Tell me about Hermeto’s recent “Som da Aura” project.

I was contacted by Morgan Fisher, a British musician who lives in Japan,
about doing a “Som da Aura” segment with Hermeto for a Japanese release
called Miniatures for the Millennium. This will be a compilation
album to celebrate the new millennium with 60 one-minute tracks by 60 artists.
When I asked Hermeto about it, he suggested we use some sounds from
the Japanese language. Well, Morgan found these great-sounding recordings
of ancient Japanese vendors, and we chose one of a banana salesman.
He announces his fruit and then starts bringing the price down to sell
it quickly. I did the pre-production, the keyboard programming,
and helped Hermeto record the segment. The result, called “Feira
de Asakusa,” will be released sometime in the near future in the Miniatures

I’m still surprised that many listeners know of Hermeto’s work only
from his compositions on the Sérgio Mendes projects. Do you
know of any effort being made to make Hermeto’s recordings more accessible
in the United States?

Hermeto’s recordings remain “harder to find than legs on a snake” as
he likes to say. Even in Brazil, they are rare or impossible to find.
I have seen a couple of them for sale at the site
on the Web as well as The latest CD, Festa
dos Deuses, has all but disappeared from the stores, even though it
was released by Polygram in Brazil and in England.

Did you have an opportunity to perform any solo piano concerts while
you were in Brazil?

I played solo piano in São Paulo, Rio, and Macaé, and
also performed with Teco Cardoso (flute/saxes), Arismar do Espírito
Santo (bass), and Caito Marcondes (percussion) in three different venues
in São Paulo. It was great to be able to show my work
in Brazil once again. I had a wonderful time and felt a very good
response to the music. I did some interviews and also radio shows.
I also had the chance to show my upcoming CD to Hermeto and the guys
in his group, and they were quite pleased with what they heard. They said
a lot of nice things about Hans, Chuck, and Mark, the Seattle guys in my
band. I also did a workshop at the Villa-Lobos Institute in Rio.

Is the Villa-Lobos Institute a state foundation?

The Villa-Lobos Institute in Rio is funded by the state of Rio and provides
music education at a low cost. For the past couple of years they
have had a young director, Marcos Nogueira, who is a fan of contemporary
music and had been to a few rehearsals at Hermeto’s house. He has
been scheduling interesting workshops, featuring Itiberê Zwarg and
Márcio Bahia from Hermeto’s band, and in June I presented a workshop.

What was the focus of your workshop?

The theme of my talk was: How to increase one’s repertoire of rhythmic
ideas by drawing from the natural wealth of Brazilian and global rhythms.
There were students of all ages in attendance. It was a great experience
for me.

Which 20th century Brazilian composers besides Villa-Lobos have affected
your music?

Hermeto, Lorenzo Fernandes, Camargo Guarnieri, Radamés Gnatalli,
and Guerra Peixe. I hope to present more of their extraordinary
music here in North America.

Was your trip to Brazil an inspiration for your own work as a composer
and arranger?

Of course. Every time I go to Brazil I get very inspired.
Actually, the music I wrote shortly before going back home is very
“Brazilian” in character, a reflection of my anticipation of being there
after a year’s absence. There is a new samba, “Mendanha,” and a
new waltz, “Rosa Cigana,” which is a tribute to Pixinguinha’s “A Rosa.”
Also, being there gave me new ideas for my project of re-dressing Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring, something that I have been working on for a while now.

Do you have plans to record “Mendanha” and “Rosa Cigana” with the
Quarteto on the next CD?

At this point, it is too early to think about the repertoire for the
next CD. It will probably be a live album. We are playing
the new tunes as well as dozens of others that did not make it to the new
CD. It is always a problem to choose the themes when we have so
many, and when I keep writing more.

Caboclo is your first CD as a band leader. Are you
happy with the results?

In general, I am very pleased with this first CD. I am fortunate
to have such a great band. These incredible musicians who have embraced
the music I wrote with love and dedication made it happen. Most
of the basic tracks and solos were done in one take with all the interactions
and telepathy happening naturally. Afterwards I added some discrete
keyboards to color the textures as well as the organ and the accordion.
I am thankful to Liquid City Records for making it possible
for me to produce the record with all the ideal technical conditions.

We recorded everything in the analog format with Daniel Protheroe, a
fantastic engineer who had made a few records with Airto and Flora in the
eighties. Airto was going to record with us here, but we had a heavy
snowstorm, and he could not make it. We went on without him, and
in February I flew to London with the tapes. Over a period of two
days Airto added his special sounds and creativity to all the group tracks.

His choice of sounds and rhythms was amazing and added a lot to our
music. After that, we sent the mixed product to Bob Katz for mastering
in Florida, and his input helped a lot. He suggested small changes in the
sequence of songs that make a big difference.

My understanding is that a Caboclo is an Indian ancestral
spirit who returns to earth to aid humanity. Does this title infer
anything about the music on the new disc or about your philosophy of music
in general?

There are many ways to interpret Caboclo; that’s why I chose
the title. One of them is an Indian warrior spirit who makes himself present
in some Umbanda rituals. Another is the name given to the common
folk in Northern Brazil who are the product of the racial and cultural
mixing of European (Portuguese), African, and native Brazilian populations.
While remaining uniquely Brazilian, there is a wide range of cultural
traits that these people exhibit. For an in-depth anthropological
analysis of the formation of the Brazilian people, I refer you to the excellent
book by the late Darcy Ribeiro, O Povo Brasileiro—Formação
e Sentido do Brasil.

Anyway, my intention in choosing this title and concept was to draw
a parallel between the racial mixture that produced the Brazilian people
and the mixture of styles that gave rise to Brazilian music. Again,
here are European, African, and indigenous elements combining to create
something rich and unique. My point is that this mixing process
is not finished. That is why we are playing universal music with roots
in the Brazilian musical landscape, but without the pretense of re-creating
“authentic” music.

We are not ethnomusicologists; instead we are contemporary musicians
creating something new from a rich mother lode of rhythms, harmonies, and
melodies. I arrived at this idea when I considered my own ancestry—Portuguese,
English, French, American, Arab, Black, and Indian, among others—as
well as the universal character of the music that I was exposed to while
playing with Hermeto Pascoal.

Did you play material from Caboclo when the Quarteto opened
for Marisa Monte in San Francisco?

Yes, the Quarteto did play a lot of tunes from Caboclo at the
Maritime Hall on June 21, but we also did a special arrangement of “Um
a Zero” as a special homage to the 100th anniversary of Pixinguinha, which
is being celebrated this year.

How did the audience receive your music? Were you pleased
with the response?

I think we did very well. Of course, we were only borrowing Marisa
Monte’s audience for a short while. But for us it was a great opportunity
to have 1500 pairs of ears to sample our musical brew. We chose
high-energy, fast-paced tunes to catch their attention, and they responded
quite well. Now we are preparing the CD release concerts, and we will be
back in the Bay Area as well as other West Coast locations. We will also
be touring Europe in early 1998, and I am trying to take the Quarteto to
Brazil sometime soon.

Did Hermeto write “Viva o Rio de Janeiro” for the new disc?

It was composed by Hermeto in 1989, and it quickly became one of the
all-time favorites of the Grupo because of its happy samba feel and because
players can solo nicely over the changes. We recorded the original
arrangement as Hermeto wrote it. Actually, this tune was unnamed
for all these years (as is most of Hermeto’s music), and he only put a
title to it when I needed one for the CD cover.

Its spirit is very Carioca (from Rio). How did you
achieve that particular tuning for the surdo?

The surdo sound on the recording was made by Airto using his
pandeiro with tape over the jingles and super close miking for the
right tone.

What was your concept for the tune “Caboclo”?

I wanted this song to reflect the rich mixture that goes into the formation
of the Brazilian people as well as in Brazilian music. Then the
idea of re-creating a feira, or street market, came to me. I
had some feira sounds that I had recorded on the street near Hermeto’s
house where I used to live in Jabour, Rio. And once back here in
Seattle, I went to the Pike Place Market where there are a lot of vendors
selling fish, fruit, and a lot more and also recorded their sounds.
Then I assembled all that using my sampler, thus creating a “universal
feira” where much is going on —buying, selling, people meeting,
arguing, joking, etc. The theme was written in London last year
using as a guideline some repentes, or improvised poetry, that I
found in a book printed in 1936 called Alma Nordestina. I
used the 5-verse stanzas as a template for the melody and the rest happened
nicely during recording.

That banda de pífano intro juxtaposed with the street
sounds is remarkable. And the soloing, wow! Do you play accordion

I borrowed an accordion to play the theme. In the intro I play
zabumba, Mark is on triangle, and Hans and I play on two funky PVC
plastic flutes (fifes) that a friend in Recife gave him last year. The
way Hans’s sax solo flows into the piano solo was totally unplanned, giving
the tune a very loose feel that stills rocks with a solid groove.

“Intro” and “Hoping for the Day” reminded me a lot of the groups
Bill Evans lead and especially of the great bass player Scott LaFaro.

This is a jazzy waltz with a really sweet melody that I wrote a couple
of years ago, and I love the way Chuck interprets it on the acoustic bass.
The piano intro was completely improvised in the studio. It’s one
of those tunes that people keep humming long after they hear it. Besides,
I like the idea that it gives a ray of hope and happiness to whoever listens
to it.

Hermeto’s influence is unmistakable on “Chorelético.” Did
you write this when you were playing with him?

This chorinho was composed back in 1981, and the title comes
from Pernambuco who had nicknamed me “Homelético” or the “Electric
Man” for always being so energetic. Even though rhythmically it
is a straight choro, the harmony is quite different, reflecting
all the new chords I was learning while playing with Hermeto. I
wanted Airto to play the pandeiro, but instead he suggested a pandeiro
rhythm and played on a whole variety of small percussion instruments.
The end was supposed to be a fade-out, but we all loved the way it
developed so naturally that we left it to the “last drop.”

It’s so rare to hear frevos recorded these days. Is
“Boa Viagem Pra Olinda” an older tune?

This frevo is quite recent. The title refers to a day
last year when I started a Sunday by going to Boa Viagem beach in Recife,
then going up to Olinda to see a maracatu group playing in the square.
What a day! This cut has no improvised solos; instead
I wrote an arrangement that attempts to describe the feeling of moving
from one place to another and going through different moods. In
the middle, I quote (jokingly) from the “Zé Pereira” Carnaval theme.

“Metamorph” is one of the wildest, most angular choros I’ve

Yes, it is a crazy tune that starts with an ostinato left-hand pattern
and changes (hence the name) to a straight ahead choro. I
also used to play it with Airto and Fourth World, so he was at home with
the hairpin turns in the arrangement.

What prompted your decision to leave Fourth World?

I had a great time during the almost three years I worked with Airto
and Flora. I learned a lot from playing with such a master as Airto,
and I had the opportunity to show my compositions and arrangements to a
wide variety of audiences. Nevertheless, we were playing basically
the same material during this period of time because the logistics of getting
together and rehearsing made it very hard to present anything new. We
felt our paths going separate ways as my own work as a piano soloist and
group leader started to evolve.

It was a friendly dissolution though. I am very fond of Flora
and Airto, and I’m grateful for having had the opportunity of working together.
We had some really special moments on the road. As you know,
Airto is featured as a guest artist on Caboclo, and his musical
contribution made a big difference to the Quarteto’s sound. I would
love to work with him more in the future.

With Airto and Flora in Santa Barbara, California, and you in Seattle,
Washington, a rehearsal could certainly create problems. Is “Song
for a New Home” about your move to the Northwest?

Yes, this was written after our move from Rio to Seattle. The
whole song is based on a simple riff that came to me as I was strolling
through the zoo in Bern, Switzerland. I built all these lines around
it and wrote a four part horn arrangement that Hans overdubbed. This
is one of the tunes in which I play the Hammond organ.

That big Hammond B3 on “Sete Penas” took me back a few years.
How did you arrive at the idea of combining that warm sound with the
tune’s odd meter?

The theme from “Sete Penas” (Seven Feathers) used to belong to another
song I wrote, but I extracted it because I was looking for a nice, loose
groove in 7/4. The sound of the Hammond B3 organ is something I
love, so I could indulge in that fat tone. Chuck plays electric bass here,
and Airto is great with his stuff. Since we recorded it, I have
revamped it and added more parts. It came out as one of my favorite
tunes on the CD, a tip of the hat to the progressive rock I used to listen
to as a teenager. For the title I imagined an Indian warrior dancing
barefoot with this rainbow headdress, one feather for each color and for
each beat of the 7/4 meter.

How did you find working on the Gary Stroutsos Winds of Honor

My work with Gary Stroutsos on Winds of Honor opened the doors
for a whole new direction in my music. Since then I have been to
the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where I recorded
a new project with Gary, called Native Heart. I was also
featured on Andrew Vasquez’s release, Wind River. All these
CDs are available through Makoché Records. For me, this was
a different side of my playing. Instead of writing music, here I
let intuition guide me, creating harmonies and arrangements on the fly,
reacting spontaneously to the beautiful melodies of the cedar flute.
The result is music that triggers a lot of images in the mind of the

As a result of this work, my next plans involve doing some work with
Marlui Miranda, the musician who is recording the beautiful music of the
Brazilian Indians. I also have plans to collaborate with Mari Boine
Petersen, a Norwegian singer of the Lapland people who have some striking
parallels with the other native tribes of North and South America. For
me, this is another opportunity to feel the universal power of music and
to connect different places, peoples, and cultures.

“O Tetra” is one of the jazzier tunes on Caboclo. I
love the different sections and how they fit together.

“O Tetra” was written the day after Brazil won the 4-time soccer World
Cup in ’94. I was staying at a friend’s place in New York City,
a tiny apartment with a grand piano in it. I woke up early, sat
at the Steinway, and the whole theme came out.

One night my wife and I were having dinner on our patio. “Mais
Que Tudo” was playing in the background, and I remember thinking how perfectly
it fit our mood. The tune has some of the disc’s nicest soloing.

This is another kind of waltz. It is more of a seresta
style, such as one you would play under your girlfriend’s window on a moonlit
night. I wrote the theme in 1986, but I composed the flute counterpoint
that Hans plays so beautifully only after we had already recorded the basic
tracks. Another high point is Chuck’s bass solo—very inspired!
On my own piano solo I tried to create a very elastic time feeling,
playing hide-and-seek with the beat.

When did you meet Hans Teuber? What influences does he bring
to the Quarteto’s music?

I met Hans in the end of ’93 right after I moved here. He was
born and raised in South Carolina, but one of his best friends there was
a guy from Pernambuco who had got him into Brazilian music. Hans
has been to Brazil a couple of times, and we have a wonderful musical connection.
He quickly feels and interprets all kinds of syncopations. Besides,
he has a great harmonic sense, being a very good pianist himself. He
is in demand as a jazz player and has been called one of the strongest
saxophonists in this country today. I am very lucky to be in the
company of such a fine universal musician. The same applies to the
other guys in the Quarteto, Chuck Deardorf and Mark Ivester.

Besides “Intro” there are three other short piano interludes nicely
spaced throughout Caboclo. What was your purpose in including
these minimalistic pieces?

I recorded these piano vignettes to give the CD a more contrasting
landscape, to provide a change from the intense ensemble pieces. “Nuvens
Claras” is the only one that was actually written down. I composed
it as a present to the great arranger Jim Knapp, who also teaches here
at Cornish College in Seattle. It brings to my mind some of the
things he does with his fine orchestra. “Luz” is dedicated to my
wife Luzia. It was born as I recorded it. “No Horizonte do
Som,” the disc’s final track, is meant to “land” the CD after all the different
passages. It was completely improvised, and I hope it works as a
nice closing statement to Caboclo.

Will people be able to find Caboclo at their neighborhood
Tower Records?

Caboclo will be distributed by City Hall for the West Coast and
Japan and by Twin Brook for the East Coast and Europe. How that
will translate in actual store availability, I cannot say right now.
This seems to be such a complicated matter that it makes the composing,
performance, and recording of a CD seem very simple by comparison. We
will be working with a radio promoter and a publicist to help more key
people have access to the music. We’ll see…



1997 J.S. Neto Quarteto Caboclo Liquid City

1997 Andrew Vasquez Wind River Makoché

1997 Gary Stroutsos Native Heart Makoché

1996 Gary Stroutsos Winds of Honor Makoché

1996 Mike Marshall Brasil Duets EarthBeat

1996 Fourth World Encounters of the Fourth World (B&W

1995 Jovino Santos Neto Stepping on White Sand *

1995 Flora Purim Speed of Light (B&W Music)

1993 Jovino Santos Neto The Curumim’s Journey **

1992 Hermeto e Grupo Festa dos Deuses (Polygram, England)

1992 Sérgio Mendes Brasileiro (Elektra)

1990 Various Artists One World, One Voice (Virgin)

1990 Maria Bethânia 25 Anos (Polygram)

1989 Hermeto e Grupo Mundo Verde Esperança ***

1987 Hermeto e Grupo Só Não Toca Quem Não Quer
(Som da Gente)

1985 Hermeto e Grupo Brasil Universo (Som da Gente)

1984 Hermeto e Grupo Lagoa da Canoa, Município de Arapiraca
(Som da Gente)

1984 Nene Ponto dos Músicos (Paris)

1982 Hermeto e Grupo Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo (Som da Gente)

1980 Hermeto e Grupo Cérebro Magnético (WEA Brasil)

1979 Hermeto e Grupo Ao Vivo em Montreux (WEA Brasil)

1978 Hermeto e Grupo Zabumbê-bum-á (WEA Brasil)

*Stepping on White Sand is pending label negotiations.

**The Curumim’s Journey started as a soundtrack for a
theater play back in Rio in 1993. Jovino plays keyboards, creating
all sorts of musical landscapes, from orchestral to very rhythmic grooves
with the help of Fábio Pascoal (Hermeto’s son) on percussion.

***Mundo Verde Esperança was supposed to be released
in 1989 by Som da Gente. Hermeto got upset with them, however, and
walked out of the studio when the project was 80% mixed. It has
never been released. Polygram wanted to release it in 1992, but
could not get the master from Som da Gente.


Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received
his Masters degree in music from California Institute of the Arts. He
leads the Brazilian jazz ensemble Axé and plays cuíca
for escola de samba MILA. You can reach him through his E-mail:

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