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Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista has long been one of the most prodigiously versatile session cats in New York, and over the decades he's also built up a sizable discography of solo and collaborative recordings with his name on the cover. In recent years he's attracted some attention with his eccentric combo Beat the Donkey, which translates Brazilian rhythms and forms into a highly theatrical language using a lineup that sometimes pushes a dozen. It's exactly that theatrical quality that makes it hard for me to enjoy Beat the Donkey, though, so I'm happy that Baptista's most recent album, Banquet of the Spirits (Tzadik), uses only a resourceful quartet.
On this disc as on many others, Baptista embraces the familiar Brazilian concept of cultural cannibalism or "anthropofagia," an idea first espoused by writer Oswald de Andrade and later embraced by the tropicalistas--by hungrily swallowing everything, it says, musicians can create something new, albeit with a distinctly Brazilian slant. John Zorn and Erik Friedlander drop by for cameos, but Baptista's crack band--keyboardist Brian Marsella, bassist and oudist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, and drummer Tim Keiper--does the real work ably and efficiently, navigating wild shifts in tempo, texture, and style. In addition to the heavy Brazilian vibe there are also shots of North African trance music, jazz, and rock. The piece with Zorn, "Macunaima," almost sounds like an homage to the notorious quick-cut collages of the saxophonist's old band Naked City.
The group plays a free show tonight at the Columbia College Concert Hall.
Clive Bell & Bechir Saade, An Account of My Hut (Another Timbre)
Tim Maia, Racional Vol. 1 (Trama)
Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet, Tabligh (Cuneiform)
Guus Janssen, Out of Frame (Geestgronden)
N.E.R.D, Seeing Sounds (Star Trak/Interscope)