Exotic percussion, string and keyboard instruments were strewn across the stage of Joe's Pub in New York City on May 29th. Cyro Baptista rapped out a pattern and casually live-looped it to play against himself with handclaps, drums and birdcalls. His approach of maximizing each person's sound fuels his new group and CD Banquet of the Spirits. Drummer-percussionist Tim Keiper, bassist-oudist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and keyboardist-accordionist Brian Marsella added to the leader's sonic blend, slowly teasing the introduction and launching their rendition of the late trumpeter Don Cherry's "Bird Boy."
Opening with unhurried oud, vocals and percussion, the tune ignites for Marsella's organ run before becoming an amorphous sound exploration, spotlighting guest cellist Erik Friedlander on the CD, but handled live as a collective improvisation. Abrupt stylistic shifts are a hallmark for musical omnivore Baptista. His "Macunaima" boasts a rollicking Brazilian opening that dissolves into a fleet jazz run with cascading piano and a loping bass line, only to be rent by the alto sax shrieks of guest John Zorn. In concert, the leader manipulated bird calls for his best Zorn impersonation and Blumenkranz processed his bass to sound like a guitar for the raving surf interlude and later section of metal bombast, the broad genre hops flowing without irony.
Baptista's willful amalgamations respectfully borrow from their sources to pursue novelty. The influence of Cherry's early embrace of global sounds is acknowledged with covers of his "Malinye" and sitarist Collin Walcott's "Mumakata," recorded by their trio Codona. The percolating groove and lilting vocal melodies of the latter tune are irresistibly charming, the high harmony ably handled live by Keiper in the absence of the CD's backup vocalists. With vocals and tambourines, the drummer and Baptista matched wits introducing the hypnotic "Argan." Blumenkranz' oud was featured for its Middle Eastern tinge, minus vocalist Hassan Ben Jaffar from the recording.
Though lacking the costumes and overt theatrics of his Beat the Donkey ensemble, Baptista's streamlined quartet is no less engaging: constantly changing instruments and styles to crank out high-energy romps with contagious enthusiasm. "Anthropofagia," their original band name and dramatic mission-statement, explains it's a Brazilian thing to devour influences: "And we eat them all and again and again..."
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.