Suite Universal (Universal Suite) (world premiere, LA Phil commission)
About this Piece
In the rich and diverse universe of music in Brazil, the presence of Hermeto Pascoal shines like a comet, crossing several eras and musical circles, leaving a strong influence on generations of musicians, and building a name that represents unbridled creativity and inspiration. Better known as a genial multi-instrumentalist, he is capable of extracting music out of the most unexpected objects, while exhibiting his virtuosity on piano, flute, saxophones, strings, percussion, and many other conventional (and otherwise) instruments.
Hermeto was born in Lagoa da Canoa, a small village in the interior of Alagoas state, in the heart of the fertile tobacco-planting interior of Northeastern Brazil. He was entirely self-taught, and his musical growth was informed by the rural environment where he was raised. He became a professional musician at age 14 and went on from his hometown to Recife, then to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where he was a founding member of the legendary Quarteto Novo. In 1971 he went to New York, where Miles Davis recorded several of Hermeto’s compositions on the Live/Evil album.
Hermeto made several recordings with Airto Moreira and Flora Purim before returning to Brazil, where he convened a group of young dedicated musicians who rehearsed daily for hours, creating a unique sound, recording iconic albums, and touring around the world. This became famous as the Jabour School, named after the Rio neighborhood where Hermeto lived. Hermeto has taught himself to compose, arrange, and orchestrate for any musical context, from his own ensemble to symphonic and chamber pieces to jazz orchestras. His big band album Natureza Universal was awarded the Latin Grammy for best Latin Jazz Album in 2018.
His tremendous musicianship has earned him praise from some of the greatest musicians of the world, from Miles Davis and Astor Piazzolla to Gil Evans, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock.
This piece was composed by Hermeto Pascoal over a few weeks in the late 1980s, when our Grupo rehearsed daily at his house in Bairro Jabour, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During our rehearsals, Hermeto would begin to play a motive on the piano, encouraging me to learn it by ear. Once I started playing it after a few minutes, Hermeto would then ask the other musicians to follow the piano, sometimes adding extra harmonies or parts to sax and bass. Each section was learned by ear before being committed to paper by each musician. Every day Hermeto would ask us to play the piece until the end of the previous section, then he would immediately continue to add more sections. The process was repeated until we had about 12 minutes of continuous music, which was fully memorized by all members of the Grupo. Even though we practiced this Suite daily, we rarely performed it live, because our ensemble had another 200 pieces composed by Hermeto in our repertoire.
The title is a reference to Hermeto’s concept of music as a Universal force, and it shows his ability to take any musical style or genre and use it in a creative and intuitive fashion. It is an epic tour de force, moving effortlessly through different time signatures, tonal centers, and textural colors. Simple diatonic melodies are juxtaposed with brilliant harmonic concepts to create colorful musical textures throughout the piece.
When he was invited to contribute to “The Edge of Jazz” program, Hermeto asked me to orchestrate this suite for the LA Phil New Music Group and to perform it as a piano soloist with them. I chose the instruments for their wide possibilities of color, timbre, and expression. I am honored to perform in the orchestral world premiere of this magnificent piece by my musical mentor.
Hermeto said about this piece: “My friends, this is what I call Universal Music. A mixture that represents all the people of the world in a single embrace. Life is Beautiful.” — Jovino Santos Neto