Sean Khan featuring Hermeto Pascoal ‘Palmares Fantasy’ LP/CD/DIG (Far Out Recordings) 4/5

Here is an unexpected duet that, overall, works extremely well. Multi-instrumentalist, keyboardist, flautist, and all-round maverick, Hermeto Pascoal, is quite simply one of the all-time great Brazilian musicians. Blessed with a unique instrumental voice that is in large part due to his extreme sensitivity to sounds, which is in turn attributable to him being an albino, and therefore spending large parts of his life away from the tropical sunshine, and in particular in the forest. Saxophonist Sean Khan must have thought his dreams had been answered when Pascoal agreed to hook up on this project and among the other musicians, Azymuth drummer Ivan Conti and singer Sabrina Malheiros are on hand to provide sensitive and empathetic accompaniment.

The latter offers up an alternative reading of the MPB classic that was immortalised by its composer, Milton Nascimento, with ‘Tudo o Que Você Podia Ser’, but on this song, Hermeto is absent for once. A real winner is the modal flavoured ‘Said’, with piano and bass operating in tandem, and Khan’s soprano saxophone certainly has echoes of John Coltrane. The brooding quality of this piece makes it a genuine album highlight. On ‘Waltz For Hermeto’, Pascoal reverts to melodica, with a string quartet to accompany, and actually comes across like a Toots Thielemans soundalike. However, Hermeto returns to more traditional terrain on the flute for a glorious ten minute Fender-led piece, ‘Montreux’, and the alto saxophone of Khan recalls the melodic late 1960’s Miles Davis’ ‘In A Silent Way’ era. When the music is broken down to just Khan and Pascoal, as on the logically titled ‘The Conversation’, piano and soprano operate so well together that one might be forgiven in thinking this was two musicians who know each other’s musical instincts intimately as in the case say of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Maybe a follow up project which focuses more on just the two of them might be an option to consider. Sean Khan is to be congratulated for his contribution which is both impressive and significant; six of the pieces are his original compositions, and he allows Hermeto Pascoal, now a veteran in his early eighties, to focus on his individual style. One of the year’s most pleasant surprises and a recording that more than lives up to its billing.

Tim Stenhouse