Cyro Baptista: Lucifer, The Dreamers & Orra
Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista is one of the great sidemen currently active, a musician whose resourcefulness can enrich and enliven almost any music, with projects from Cassandra Wilson to John Zorn. Over the years his musical spectrum has expanded to take in a host of styles and cultures, his notion of 'percussion' expanding as well to include anything that might be struck or scraped. That repertoire of styles and sounds is apparent in his own projects, like Beat the Donkey and the recent Banquet of the Spirits (both on Zorn's Tzadik label), and his contributions to Zorn's current music and other Tzadik projects are evident in these three recent releases.
Lucifer is the latest recording by Zorn's Bar Kokhba ensemble, a brilliant group of string players and percussionists devoted to Zorn's Masada themes. Zorn's use of traditional modes strongly invokes an ancestral middle-Eastern world and Bar Kokhba's instrumentation emphasizes a certain timeless feel: it can sound like it might spring from the 15th century instead of the 21st, with the two worlds just as often mingling. There's an ancient microtonal wail in Mark Feldman's violin, while Erik Friedlander possesses a special instrumental resource, at times making his pizzicato cello sound uncannily like an oud ("Zaziel"), at other times like an English lute. Zorn contrasts these elements with the often rock-flavored guitar of Marc Ribot, while drummer Joey Baron and Baptista create compelling rhythmic mixes, combining the former's kit with the latter's varied use of hand drums like dumbek to enhance that sense of ancestral presence.
Baptista is part, too, of Zorn's most recent transformation, the cycle of compositions embodied in the concept album The Dreamers. Some of the same middle-Eastern elements are apparent, as on "Forbidden Tears," but the background of The Dreamers invokes a much more recent palette. The style hovers near the atmospheric lounge exotica of Martin Denny's Quiet Village, filled with imitations of birdcalls and Amazon percussion courtesy of Baptista.
The sextet often focuses on Ribot's encyclopedic vocabulary of guitar voices, combining the surf guitar of the Ventures, the twang of Duane Eddy and such period film composers as John Barry and Ennio Morricone. At times Ribot even manages to simulate the pedal steel guitar of Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk." Zorn's soundscape includes keyboardist Jamie Saft and drummer (here vibraphonist) Kenny Wollesen's takes on cool and Latin jazz as well. The music succeeds on many levels, from its dream-like inventory of lost idioms to its contextual complexity, mixing sounds of the real and the fake to hint at on-going cultural relations in the Americas.
Baptista is just as at home in the startling timbral dreamscapes of Orra from Phantom Orchard, a group constructed around the duo of harpist Zeena Parkins and electronic musician Ikue Mori. Few ensembles have the global cultural reach of Phantom Orchard, here including the additional presence of the Japanese Makigami Koichi on voice and jewsharp, the Finnish Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje on voice and real time processing, American percussionist Josh Quillen on a Caribbean steel drum and Brazilian Baptista contributing his global collection of percussive detail. The result is an elusive, even site-less pastoral that arises in the sliding pitches of Parkins' harps and Mori's varied electronics. The heightened presence of the recording further blurs the line between acoustic and electronic sounds, leading to the gorgeous sonic ambiguity of "Cascade of Joy" with its electronic twitterings mixing with bird-like percussion and harp, or "Omni," with its myriad altered voices and elusive metallic sounds. Phantom Orchard consistently constructs zones in which both sonic identities and formal outlines are in creative flux.
Tracks and Personnel
Lucifer: Book of Angels, Volume 10
Tracks: Sother; Dalquiel; Zazel; Gediel; Rahal; Zechriel; Azbugah; Mehalalel; Quelamia; Abdiel.
Personnel: Cyro Baptista: percussion; Joey Baron: drums; Greg Cohen: bass; Mark Feldman: violin; Erik Friedlander: cello; Marc Ribot: guitar; John Zorn, conductor.
Tracks: Mow Mow; Uluwati; A Ride on Cottonfair; Anulikwutsayl, Toys; Of Wonder and Certainty (for Lou Reed); Mystic Circles; Nekashim;. Exodus; Forbidden Tears; Raksasa.
Personnel: Cyro Baptista: percussion; Joey Baron: drums; Trevor Dunn: bass; Marc Ribot: guitars; Jamie Saft: keyboards; Kenny Wollesen: vibes; John Zorn: alto sax, conductor.
Tracks: Inquisitive Fingers; Gypsoflia; Omni; Cavacade; Ship of the Damned; Big Foot; Cascade of Joy; Green Dome; The Well; Magnetic Sleep; Kiss That Conquers.
Personnel: Cyro Baptista: percussion; Makigami Koichi: voice, jewsharp; Ikue Mori: electronics; Zeena Parkins: electric harp, acoustic harp, omnichord; Josh Quillen: steel drum; Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje: voice, real time processing.