From his earliest days, vibraphonist Erik Charlston has been attracted to a wide spectrum of musical sounds. His simultaneous introductions to classical and soul music along with his exposure to the African-inspired street drummers near his childhood home in South Chicago prepared him for his multi-faceted career as a professional percussionist covering many genres.

That mélange of early sounds also propelled him toward challenging music without boundaries. His quest for mind-bending music led him to one of the most celebrated musical geniuses and idiosyncratic minds of the past fifty years, the Brazilian composer/performer Hermeto Pascoal.  The influence of Pascoal and his musical catalog led Charlston to create his JazzBrasil ensemble and to record his new album, Hermeto: Voice and Wind.

“This is a brilliant album. Charlston is a humble leader, and when he steps into the spotlight, as he does on an 82 second vibraphone solo on Viva, it’s for good reason. This album serves as a symbol of the collaborative spirit, wondrously illustrating the fireworks that can happen when a leader finds the right material and the right musicians to help execute his vision.” DOWNBEAT: EDITOR’S PICK for Essentially Hermeto

Being from Chicago, Charlston had a wide breadth of musical exposure. His school friends were in soul and funk groups. Jazz was an influence in and out of the home, not to mention that his mother was a classical vocalist who instilled the importance of lieder and art song in her son’s musical vocabulary. After moving to New York City, Charlston became involved in musical projects of all description, from jazz ensembles to commercial work and symphony orchestras to Broadway.

“Erik is beautiful and all over the place – the Symphony, Pascoal, Hermann and he even sings! Full of surprises as MUSIC should be. He lifts it up.  Thanks Erik!”   – BILL FRISELL(on Essentially Hermeto)

It was Charlston’s friend, percussionist and Brazilian music expert Gordon Gottlieb, who introduced the vibist to Pascoal’s unpredictable genius and to his style, which is fearless, but respectful of tradition. Charlston was immediately attracted to the way Pascoal combined many different musical cultures with his own brilliantly twisted music. Charlston reflects: “Tradition and near insanity are close brothers in Hermeto’s world.” Inspired by all of this, Charlston created JazzBrasil, a band built with the intention of melding the harmonic sophistication of jazz to the rhythmic intricacies and variation of Brazilian music.

JazzBrasil incorporated a tremendous blend of jazz and Brazilian music experts, including woodwind master Ted Nash, piano great Mark Soskin, bassist Jay Anderson, drummer/percussionist Rogério Boccato and percussionist Café. The group recorded the album Essentially Hermeto, which was released in 2012.

An integral association that Charlston made was with Brazilian keyboardist Jovino Santos Neto. Neto was a one-time member of Pascoal’s touring ensemble and had access to original scores and first hand knowledge of the composer’s approach to music. Neto’s influence and suggestions helped provide a spark and many musical choices for JazzBrasil as it continued to evolve.

Over the past seven years, JazzBrasil’s repertoire continued to grow and it became apparent that it was time to record. The group’s musical canon had also incorporated tunes from other composers, including the great Brazilian guitarist Egberto Gismonti and singer-songwriter Lenine. The ensemble was able to reconvene at Avatar Studios in New York City in 2017 with the aid of engineer Adam Abeshouse. The only substitution from the original ensemble was the addition of the versatile percussionist Keita Ogawa instead of the group’s regular percussionist, Café.

The recording begins with Pascoal’s striking baião “Voz e Vento,” here with a very different arrangement from the original featuring a 6/8 rhythm feel and contrasting sections. Charlston chose Lenine’s beautiful “A Gandaia Das Ondas/Pedra e Areia” because it reminded him of Faure’s “Clair de Lune” and its imagery of the ebb and flow of the ocean being like that of life. Charlston’s “Maracatu Blue” uses the north Brazilian maracatu rhythm in a blues form to great effect while Pascoal’s delicate “Os Guizos” features a harmonically expansive duet between Charlston’s vibes and Soskin’s piano.

Pascoal’s “Fatima” is named for his oldest daughter.  Charlston dramatically rearranged the piece so that it begins with a chromatic whirlwind that switches to a more traditional choro, highlighting the clarinet of Nash. The joyful “Alegria do Vaqueiro” is a traditional cowboy song from Brazil that celebrates the sound and movement of the herds across the plains, the ensemble making it into a percussion led highlight. The gorgeous melody of “Nem Um Talvez” was first heard on Miles Davis’s Live/Evil and is performed here by Nash’s flute supported by marimba and bass.

Egberto Gismonti’s buoyant “Lôro” is introduced by Charlston’s dancing marimba before the band tears into the appealing baião. “A Fala Da Paixão” is another Gismonti composition, which has Charlston’s marimba providing a space for an intimate conversation between Soskin’s melodica and Nash’s clarinet. Pascoal’s super dynamic samba “Aquela Coisa” is a typical set closer, allowing the energy of the two percussionists to really shine. The asymmetrical “Nas Quebradas” is an encore of sorts and shows the playfulness of Pascoal’s amazingly fun writing.

Erik Charlston has been intrigued by the sound of surprise since his childhood. It is no wonder that he has been so drawn to the inexplicable delights of the music of Hermeto Pascoal. The music that Charlston makes with JazzBrasil is a delightful tribute to the Brazilian legend and can be heard to astonishing effect on Hermeto: Voice and Wind.

…more Essentially Hermeto press…

“The music Erik Charlston interprets on Essentially Hermeto is simultaneously among the most joyous and difficult I know. That he and his American and Brazilian colleagues meet the challenge so impressively, with deep understanding and unchecked personality, is a sign of the music’s universality and the Charlston sextets’ eloquent authority.”  – Bob Blumenthal, Grammy Award Winning Journalist

“This is an album of songs resplendent in the feelings of unbridled alegria. There is also the ache of longing, of saudade. The music on Charlston’s album goes there as well. No praise is high enough for the production values of this album. It captures the instruments and all their nuanced details with crisp and bright sound. And of course the musicians are all at the top of their game. Vibraphonist and marimba artist, Erik Charlston, fortuitously captured the resident and hovering spirits in the splendid Essentially Hermeto…when this group stretches itself, there aren’t many other groups that can touch it.” –  ALL ABOUT JAZZ

WBGO – Awilda Rivera’s Latin Jazz Cruise Best CDs of the Year

“A virtually flawless release both in presentation and authenticity, Erik Charlston’s JazzBrasil perfectly captures the feeling, spontaneity and soul-serving groove that make Hermeto Pascoal’s music timeless.” – CRITICAL JAZZ

“From the opening bouncy baiao to the closing samba, this session oozes authenticity. Introduced by Café’s solo on the berimbau, a one-string, bow-like Brazilian instrument, finds the leader stretching out on marimba over a mesmerizing modal groove. Together they provide the spark that ignites this effervescent, soulful project.” – JAZZTIMES

“Charlston’s vibes vary from eerily bell-like to super-sonically charged and his leadership and classical training is evident. A first rate melding of jazz and mother earth…a late Friday night set at the Blue Note held in the Brazilian rainforest” – NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD

“Artists playing music they may not have grown up with are typically held to a higher standard of “authenticity” than those who actually grew up in the culture. Even by that lofty and doubtlessly unfair standard, vibraphonist Erik Charlston’s JazzBrasil delivered last night at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Charlston’s passion for Brazilian music obviously runs deep.  He even sang a bouncy frevo number in a surprisingly powerful baritone, in what sounded like pretty perfect Portuguese.” – NEW YORK MUSIC DAILY

Hermeto: Voice And Wind

The new album, out now!