The strange tale of Brazilian Octopus

AllBrazilianMusic rescues the story of the group, assembled to perform at fashion shows, that gathered legendary musicians like Hermeto Pascoal and Lanny Gordin, made only one obscure album and wrote a chapter in the history of instrumental music in Brazil

Carlos Calado
Picture a band that features musicians from schools so different as the multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, the post-tropicalist guitar hero Lanny Gordin, bossa nova pianist Cido Bianchi (former Milton Banana Trio), acoustic guitarist Olmir Alemão Stocker and jazz bassist Nilson da Matta. The surprising meeting happened in 1968 and helped writing a little known chapter in the history of instrumental music in Brazil called Brazilian Octopuss, whose only release is hunted by disc collectors. "This is undoubtedly the strangest Brazilian group ever", writes Marcelo Dolabela in his dictionary ABZ do Rock Brasileiro (printed on Estrela do Sul, 1987). "At that time, we didn't care about the money, we just wanted to play. It was a wonderful experience", recalls Celso Bianchi, also a maestro and arranger. Brazilian Octopuss was lined up in São Paulo in the beginning of 1968 by Lívio Rangan, manager of a textile factory that promoted musical fashion shows to promote their products. "Lívio used to like me a lot. He even claimed he was gonna turn me into the new Sergio Mendes", tells the musician, appointed by Rangan as the group's coordinator.

In fact, Brazilian Octopuss was born with uncommon space in the market: a contract for a year of work that included three months of rehearsals during which the musicians received salaries. At that time, the band recorded an album with Japanese saxophonist Sadao Watanabe that has never been released in Brazil.

Gigs in a cage
The music director of the shows was the tropicalist maestro Rogério Duprat. Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Eliana Pittman also participated. "I dressed up in a lion costume in many of those shows. The whole group dressed up in animal costumes and played inside a cage", Hermeto recalls. Despite their very different backgrounds, the members knew one another because they all hung out in the same venues, specially the nightclub Stardust (managed by Lanny's father), where Hermeto, Bianchi and Alemão often performed.

"I remember that we were rehearsing when the news was broken that guitarist Wes Montgomery had passed away", says Alemão. "As usual, there were little quarrels", claims the saxophonist Carlos Alberto, noticing that the "incompatibility of ideas" was frequent within the group, especially when it was time to choose the set list. It was different when, after a few months into rehearsals, the event manager suggested that the group make an album. "Lívio Rangan thought that we could insert a number of radio-friendly songs into the disc", recalls Alemão, who was in charge of contacting songwriters with whom he had worked before. "I gathered a number of unreleased songs which were refused by Cido Bianchi, who was more interested in playing jazz. One of them was Jorge Ben's País Tropical", teases the guitarist.

"Even when we had to play French or Italian songs that were part of the factory's repertoire, we always did it with dignity. That work influenced many of the things that I do today. That's why I reckon music is universal. Everybody is influenced by everybody else", says Hermeto, who was responsible for coordinating collective arrangements after a few misunderstandings popped up among the musicians. He also wrote two themes featured in the very rare LP Brazilian Octopuss (Fermata, 1969): Rhodosando and Chayê, which were pop and Cuban cha-cha-cha fusions. "I got inspiration from the fashion models to write those songs. I already played nightclubs, then, so I could play many different styles", remembers the musician from Alagoas.

Unexpected extras on the cover
Other members also contributed with original compositions: Alemão (Canção Latina, written with Vitor Martins), vibraphone player João Carlos Pegoraro (Summerhill) and Lanny (O Pássaro). The recording of the latter provoked an argument between Hermeto and the sound technicians. "Due to the song's repetitive melody, he wrote the counterpoint to be played by two flutes, just to liven it up a bit. But when he heard the mixed track, the counterpoint had vanished. Hermeto was so furious that he wanted to beat the technician up ", laughs saxophonist Carlos Alberto, who also recalls that Pascoal does not appear on the cover of the album because he couldn't make it to the photo shooting. A clerk from an advertising agency sat by the piano, instead - as well as an old timer, a dog and a child, who had nothing to do with all that, but appeared on the cover. The shooting took place on a piece of land that looked like the surface of the moon - a reference to the space race between the USA and former USSR.

Produced by Mário Albanese and Fausto Canova, the album Brazilian Octopuss features new arrangements for Casa Forte (Edu Lobo), Pavane (Gabriel Fauré), Canção de Fim de Tarde (Walter Santos and Thereza Souza), Gosto de Ser Como Sou and Gamboa (Mário Albanese and Ciro Pereira), exploring a characteristic sound yielded by the flutes with the vibraphone, organ and guitars. "We never received a penny for that LP. It seems that it was released in Europe, even enjoying a little success", says Carlos Alberto, who claims that the members of the band tried to talk to Fermata's CEOs and get to know about the sales. Instead of checks, all they got was laudatory comments and an invitation to make a new album. Figuring that they would not get any money from it, they turned it down. The octet ended right there and then.

Three decades later, Hermeto Pascoal is not surprised or bothered with the fact that home-made copies of the only Brazilian Octopuss album circulate on CDs in São Paulo. "If the recording company doesn't care for making the CD, these people really have to copy it. It's the only way that will allow them to listen to our music", states one of the fathers of this instrumental rarity from the 60s.