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Roberto Juan Rodriguez: Baila! Gitano Baila!

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The title of drummer/composer Roberto Juan Rodriguez's second CD on John Zorn's Tzadik label means "Dance! Gypsy Dance!", an invocation that conjures the swirling, mysterious and exuberant music that Septeto Rodriguez dishes up. As on his first CD, Rodriguez creates a new jazz that blends the rhythms of Cuba with the minor-key flavor of traditional Jewish melodies.

Rodriguez has performed with many big names, including Paul Simon and Gloria Estefan, but he seems happiest mixing it up with the downtown jazz crowd. It was Rodriguez who supplied the funky Cuban magic to Marc Ribot's Los Cubanos Postizos. His drumming was also an essential part of Steven Bernstein's Diaspora Soul, which might have introduced the concept of mixing Cuban rhythms with klezmer melodies.

Whatever the exact origin, Rodriguez ran with the idea. His 2002 solo debut, El Danzon de Moises, garnered serious critical praise and interest in the Cuban/klezmer concept and Rodriguez's previously unexplored skills as a composer. The new record continues the exploration with an unusual band that emphasizes compositions over soloing and a light touch over easy excess.

Rodriguez's melodies are bounced back and forth between string trio, trombone and clarinet. The sound is slightly high-strung, but very much alive, balanced by the laid-back groove of Rodriguez's inspired drumming, Brad Jones's bass, and Ted Reichman's B-3 organ. The weird push-pull sound makes for lively, almost old-timey dance music. A favorite trick of Rodriguez's—very much in the Latin jazz tradition—is to break everything down to just drums and one instrument—cello, organ or trombone—before building back up to the multi-layered whirl of sound. All titles are by Rodriguez except for the last track, "Turkish-Bulgarish," a 1929 composition by Naftule Brandwein. The famous klezmer clarinetist's dance has here been transformed into a long, exciting romp that allows everyone to cut loose.

Solo highlights include Roberto Rodriguez, Sr.'s trumpet on the title track and the last song, Curtis Hasselbring's cello-like trombone solo on "Hadida," and the violin hoedown also on the last track. Meg Okura's eerie/exciting solos are this band's secret weapons on CD and in performance.

Baila! Gitano Baila! is a highly enjoyable CD that will appeal to fans of klezmer, Latin jazz, world music and downtown jazz. Roberto Juan Rodriguez is an artist full of surprises. Keep your eye on him.

Track Listing: Wolfie's Corner; Paseo Del Prado; Hadida; Baila! Gitano Baila!; Piruli; Para Peru; Marranos y Conversos; Dice el Sabio Solomon; Sosua la Bella; Turkish-Bulgarish

Personnel: Matt Darriau--Clarinet, kaval bulagaro, flautin irlandes, trompeta china; Curtis Hasselbring-- Trombone; Ted Reichman, accordian, B-3 Hammond Leslie; Meg Okura--violin; Sam Bardfeld--violin; Mary Wooten--cello; Brad Jones--bass; Roberto Juan Rodriguez--percussion

Title: Baila! Gitano Baila! | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Tzadik

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