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Last Thursday night at Tonic was nothing but cálido. On stage were Tonic heroes John Zorn and Marc Ribot sitting quietly in the corner waiting for the cue of the man of the night, Cyro Baptista. Baptista who is Brazilian, has established himself as a world class percussion player among critics and played with several mainstream musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock and Sting. Baptista has also expressed himself as somewhat of a maverick by way of his against the grain fusion work with musicians like John Zorn and Trey Anastasio. Baptista began his set with a distant melody of the Brazilian drone instrument the berimbau and the looping of bird chirping. Organic and exotic utterances from very unusual instruments seemed foreign yet welcomed in the spare cement interior of the club. Part wild Pied Piper and part jester Baptista welcomed us into his world where all sound becomes music. The list of instruments and objects used on stage and in the studio ranged from the Brazilian pandiero to frog bells, a refrigerator and Coca-Cola bottles. Just as Baptista established an ambiance of the electronically looped berimbau, bird calls and a chant in Portuguese, we heard the echoed harmony of bottles blown upon as a succession of men and women march through the crowd to join the aura on stage. The band busted into a funky dance beat and a chunky groove provided by Marc Ribot. Baptista roared along with the rhythm, a celebration of dance and percussion exploded on stage. Baptista played a percussive arsenal of electronic pads, cuicas, jaw harps, bells and congas. The rest of Beat the Donkey included a kit drummer, two percussive dancers, and a timbale player, all of whom flood rhythms that intoxicated the crowd to dance as if we were on the streets for Carnival. Playing with Ribot on guitar is Viva De Concini, who surprised us all from behind the Kangol hat with several nasty distortion laden guitar solos. This aggressive guitar work was heard later in the set as the sound of the music shifts to more rock/punk arrangement. This mood change provided a darker tone and space for John Zorn and Marc Ribot to rip several streaming solos that gave the music an almost psychedelic feel.
Baptista who obviously liked to keep his music in flux, ushered the band from its overdrive course to more back-beat soul funk that was reminiscent of Maceo Parker or George Clinton. Plenty of wah-wah and velvet top hats made you feel as though P-Funk took a vacation to San Paulo and learned capoeira.
Brazilian accent was all over the music as the set continued spinning itself with hints of samba, funk, rock and hip-hop. Cyro closed the show dynamically reining in the stampede he had let loose with a stomp. The crowd roared with joy and smiles, the band smiling back, everyone having fun.
Cyro shook his beaker of culture, genre and rhythm that night and those of us who had sought musical intoxication or just to shake some booty were satiated with tunes that were danceable, positive and at times a bit absurd. This was my first Cyro Baptista show and I am definitely hooked. Tonic was an appropriate venue for him to let loose for his album release and let the full effect of his eclectic arrangements and dance party band to take hold of the crowd. I would have wanted to hear more from John Zorn, but when he did play it was impressive and well suited for the course and ambiance crafted by Baptista. Cyro Baptista's Brazilian background was obvious through his association of music with therapy. He and Zorn joked, "We made some people sick and we cured some too".
For a calendar of New York area events, visit Ben Pomeroy's website at GothamJazz.Com.