Led by saxophonist and percussionist Barak Schmool, Rhythms of the City was one of first bands to emerge from London's newly formed F-IRE (Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression) collective in the late 1990s. Starting life as a samba drumming group, it has since added splashes of salsa, funk, soca and hip hop to create the glorious, beat-centric melange heard on Rhythms of the City.
Numbering anything between five and 75 players, and at home in contexts ranging from small clubs to big city street carnivals, RotC has two strandsone composed of professional musicians, the other a larger, community-based group combining professionals and amateur enthusiasts. Rhythms of the City focuses on the professionals, here a 17-piece line-up augmented on four tracks by the six-piece salsa band Son Veneno.
Schmool, a long-time member of keyboard player and composer Django Bates's Delightful Precipice, also leads F-IRE's Timeline and Meta Meta bands, respectively playing African-rhythmic jazz and Cuban bata fusion, and the 14-piece big band Synergy. A beacon of energy and activism, Schmool was the catalyst for F-IRE, whose leading lights include saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, drummer Sebastian Rochford, guitarist Jonny Phillips, cellist Ben Davis and flautist/saxophonist Finn Peters. It's high time Schmool got his turn in the sun, and Rhythms of the City provides it (albeit sharing the stage with 22 other musicians and singers).
Even in its professional incarnation, RotC holds true to F-IRE's founding commitment to cultural inclusivity, and Rhythms of the City includes songs from five countries, played by musicians of 10 nationalities, and sung in Portugese, Spanish and English. Some of the tunes are classics of their genres, like Colombian bandleader Fruko's and Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes's salsas "El Preso" and "Aguanile Bonko," and the Brazilian sambas "Ilu Aye" and "Aldeia de Okarimbe." Others are newly composed. British samba pioneer Bosco de Oliveira wrote the gritty "Rua Brasileira" and "Riva," taking lead vocals on both and also playing the unaccompanied berimbau solo "Beco da Vida." Schmool collaborated with Brit-hop artist Mystro on the ultimate city-beat melting pot, "ROTC." Singer Sara Farina fronts a salsa-recalibration of Otis Redding's "Respect."
It's a stew alright, a fragrant and nourishing one packed with joyful melody and life affirming rhythm, with an authenticity all of its own. The abiding groove focuses on vocals and group percussion, augmented on "El Preso," "Riva," "Aguanile Bonko" and "Aldeia de Okarimbe" by Son Venono trumpeter Martin Farrugia and trombonist Mike Raper. RotC 7-string guitarist Stefano Kalonaris is a special delight on "Ilu Aye" (as is Oliveira on the aforementioned "Beco da Vida"). Live recordings of the extended community-based RotC line-up are briefly heard between some tracks.
Schmool draws comparison with the London-based composer Tony Haynes, leader of the estimable Grand Union Orchestra. Both are visionary stylists and passionate educators, Haynes with a primary focus on South Asian and Eastern musics. London is fortunate to have each of them.
Track Listing: El Preso; Riva (Respeito); Ilu Aye (Terra Nova); Astral; Aguanile Bonko; Rua Brasileira; Beco da Vida; ROTC; Respect; Aldeia de Okarimbe.
Personnel: Rhythms of the City: Barak Schmool: repinque, saxes, tamborim; shakers and bells, reco-reco, triangle, atabaque, surdos, arrangements; Bosco de Oliveira: leads vocals (2, 6), berimbau (6, 7), backing vocals (3, 4-10); Maurizo Ravalico: leads vocals (1, 5), backing vocals (10); Christiane Santana: lead vocals (4), backing vocals (2, 3, 6, 9, 10); Mystro: all vocals (8); Sara Farina: lead vocals (9), backing vocals (2, 3, 4, 6, 10); Jean-Christophe Jacquin: leads vocals (10), backing vocals (3); Phil Stevenson: electric guitar (2, 4, 6), cavaco (3, 10); Stefano Kalonaris: 7-string guitar (3, 10); Francesc Marco Sendon: caixa, keyboards (2, 4), keyboard solo (5); Laurie Blundell: caixa, backing vocals (2, 3, 6, 10); Alex Gould: caixa; James Gardner: surdos; Amy Lu: backing vocals (2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10); Donald Bradby: cuica (3). Son Veneno: Cesar Marin: bass (1, 5), backing vocals (1, 5); Martin Farrugia: trumpet (1, 2, 5, 10); Mike Raper: trombone (1, 2, 5, 10); Danny Pliner: keyboards (1, 5); Lautaro Veloso: vocals (1); Steve Marin: backing vocals (1, 5).