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From the Inside Out

Detroit through New York to Berlin and Brazil: Music Beats Around the World

By Published: January 3, 2007

Purposeful? Detailed liner notes sure seem so. For example, they explain that the Yoruba are the largest single ethno-linguistic group in Nigeria and the second largest in Africa, and that Yoruba culture was connected with the west through the slave trade that brought West Africans to Cuba to work the sugar fields.

As dry as that may read, Explorations In Afrobeat explodes, dances and melts in your ear with sheer bliss. Two members of the septet, Matt Grundstad (percussion, lead vocals) and Adam Grosso (bass, vibes, vocals), studied in Cuba with members of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Grupo Afro-Cuba. The remaining five—Ryan Jeter (tenor saxophone, vocals), Austin Zaletel (alto saxophone, vocals), Mike Tallman (guitar, vocals), Josten Foley (drums, vocals) and Eric Quiner (keyboards, vocals)—never lag behind, as they collectively whip through this set comprising "The Orisha, the list of Yoruban gods each song ceremonially honors.

Flowing with thick, lusty rhythms that heat your blood, each musician's part interlocks so tightly with the others' that this music seems so coiled it might explode. Tallman strums and stabs guitar rhythms that sound both African (chiming juju in "Elegua ) and Caribbean ("Obatalá, with chords more familiar in western ears from reggae).

African guitar and Afro-Cuban percussion blossom from electric organ swells of "Ogún, then every instrument lifts up and sings in a joyous, communal and primal rhythm, with horn charts that stab equal parts melodic and rhythmic punctuation. Jeter's tenor saxophone solo wails like a siren to stoke even higher the rhythmic flame of this dervish named for the Orisha of metal and war who "also represents all forms of energy. Wisely named, "Ogún is twelve crackling minutes of pure electricity.

"With this album we have done our best to take elements of Nigerian and Afro-Cuban music and combine them with our own ideas, notes Grundstad. "Our intent is not to 'steal' music from other cultures but to learn from them and share them with anyone who is willing to listen.

Germany and Cuba

Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion
Mozart Meets Cuba
Sony Classical
2006

Few musical marriages can seem more oddly matched than a German classical/chamber trio with an Afro-Cuban percussion ensemble. Yet Mozart Meets Cuba presents astonishing work: Latin explorations of Mozart's timeless melodies that are true to the fire and passion, and to the almost mathematic precision, of Afro-Cuban and classical perspectives. Mozart's compositions remain refined and austerely beautiful (such as his Clarinet Concerto, for example, here presented as "Poema Con Cohiba ), but they rhythmically move forward with a smile and bounce.

Bassist Killian Forster, pianist Tobias Forster and drummer Tim Hahn were trained in classical music in Germany. Together they began to explore crossover music by stretching classical music out with important rhythmic, harmonic and improvisatory aspects of jazz, then formed the Klazz Brothers to explore their KLAZZ (KLAssic JaZZ) music. They befriended Afro-Cuban percussionists Elio Rodriguez Luis (congas) and Alexis Herrera Exteves (timbales) while performing in Havana; their combined ensemble constructs a cross-cultural instrumental quintet that moves between classical, jazz and Latin.

Whatever you call it, this quintet plays like virtuosos and brilliantly executes Mozart Meets Cuba. Tobias leads the ensemble with piano so sparkling and articulate—especially in "Salzburger Schafferl (from The Magic Flute) —that your ears may think you're listening to Dr. Billy Taylor instead. Later, his piano sets the table in "Calypso Facile (from Piano Sonata, K.545) for a finger-popping bass turn served a la mode with percussion.

Adding harmonica and trumpet expands "Don Muerte (from Don Giovanni) into cinematic territoty with the sound of a sunset closing a classic Western. "Cuban March also takes a bit of liberty with its original ("Turkish March ) to reshape the familiar melody into hot Latin jazz with explosive percussion/piano sections. It serves a great example for the entire Mozart Meets Cuba concept. You hear the familiar, classical melody but essentially as the starting point for genuine, excellent, new music based upon its theme.

Brazil

Thiago de Mello & Dexter Payne
Another Feeling
Dexofon
2006

Have you ever walked alone through a quiet beautiful woodland and stepped into an open space full of nothing but warm and growing brightness, and felt like nature was a cathedral and you were seated in its front row? Another Feeling sounds just like that: completely, naturally, immaculate and beautiful.



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