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Cyro Baptista portrait Brazilian percussionist band Cyro Baptista


Cyro Baptista & Derek Bailey "Cyro" (Incus, 1982)
The first recording by Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista finds him paired with English avant-guitarist Derek Bailey in a brisk set of oddball, disjointedly angular free jazz/difficult listening improvisations. This kind of exploratory wanking around doesn't do much for me, personally, but in the moments where they actually slide into intuitive grooves, their musicality comes more to the fore, and there are some impressive passages. Bailey is kind of a rhythmic, physical player, so the match-up with a percussionist such as Baptista -- who comes from a country where drumming takes on a melodic hue -- is somewhat inspired. Avantniks will probably like this more than Brazilianites, but it's still worth checking out of you're a Baptista fan.

Cyro Baptista "Villa Lobos - Vira Loucos" (Avant-Japan, 1997)
(Produced by John Zorn & Kazunori Sugiyama)

A younger percussionist gets playful, artsy and loose with Nana Vasconcelos and the John Zorn crowd, on this multi-textured tribute to classic composer Hector Villa Lobos. Jazz bassist/arranger Greg Cohen participates, along with guitarist Marc Ribot, sax maniac John Zorn, classical guitarist Romero Lubambo and accordionist Chango Spasiuk -- this has its moments of brilliance, blending Brazilian folk elements along with weirdo NYC art stylings, and above all a sense of fun and whimsy. A clever mix of Brazilian regional styles and jazz-world kookiness -- definitely worth tracking down!

Cyro Baptista "Beat The Donkey" (Tzadik, 2002)
Percussionist Baptista gets funky and wild with his band, Beat The Donkey, and a slew of high-power guests, including Tzadik label founder, saxophonist John Zorn, guitarists Marc Ribot and Romero Lubambo, vocalist Luciana Souza, ex-Ambitious Lover Peter Scherer, and a host of others. On this wild, veering improvisational display, Baptista proves himself as far-reaching and restless an innovator as Brazilian jazz elder Hermeto Pascoal... Yet even with the kookiness and relentless, brisk experimentalism, this disc is also packed with plenty of zanily catchy melodies... At once challenging and good, goofy fun, this is an album that stretches the boundaries of Brazilan pop and traditional music, while giving us all something to smile about as well. Recommended!

Cyro Baptista "Beat The Donkey Beat" (OMM, 2004)
This is a lively, purposefully goofy collaboration between the East Coast-based Baptista and his band, and San Francisco's Peter Apfelbaum and some of his pals... The results are mixed. The opening tracks evoke the giddy propulsiveness of old-school Brazilian forro and baiao, while other ttracks delve into indigenous Amazonian music, much like Egberto Gismonti... But midway through the album sheds much of its charm, transforming instead into a how-fast-can-you-play beatfest, music that sounds like it was fun to play (and might be fun to see performed live), but that may leave many listeners cold. Some songs are just horrible, like the shrill, irritating "Movie Screen," or "Rio De Jamaica," with a tacky, Santana-esque guitar intro... I found my inner comparisons shifting away from forro old-timers like Luiz Gonzaga and Ary Lobo to modern-day prog-wankers such as Primus... Now, for some, that may sound like a compliment, and by all means, you are invited to check this out... But for others, folks who value subtlety and softness, you might want to skip this one.

Cyro Baptista & Richard Crandell "Mbira Magic" (Tzadik, 2004)

Cyro Baptista "Love The Donkey" (Tzadik, 2005)

Cyro Baptista & Derek Bailey "Derek" (Incus, 2006)

Cyro Baptista & Richard Crandell "Spring Steel" (Tzadik, 2007)

Cyro Baptista "Banquet Of The Spirits" (Tzadik, 2008)
(Produced by Cyro Baptista & Cadou Costa)

An utterly crazed, virtuoso showcase by Brazilian-born, New York-based percussionist Cyro Baptista, who has become a go-to performer on many other people's projects, but who keeps a decidedly avant edge to his own albums. This one is wild and -- literally -- all over the map, merging African, Arabic and Brazilian elements with avant-rock and difficult-listening free jazz. Some of the more lyrical passages and songs, such as "Mumakata," are beautiful, while others, such as "Macunaima" (featuring Tzadik label head and skronk-jazz legend John Zorn on saxophone) are much more challenging and chaotic. No matter where you stand on the continuum of preferences -- avant vs. alluring -- you have to admire the musical skill and depth of knowledge on display here. Collaborating with Baptista are fellow percussionist Tim Keiper, Middle Eastern oud player Shanir Elza Blumenkrantz, cellist Erik Friedlander, keyboardist Brian Marsella, and a floating cast of dozens, whose amorphous composition reflect the far-reaching musical diversity of the album itself. As ever, Tzadik (and Baptista) push the boundaries and frequently reach the sublime.

Cyro Baptista "Infinito" (Tzadik, 2009)

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