Monday, April 29, 2013

Bahia Black: Ritual Beating System

Another stellar release on Bill Laswell's short-lived, but spectacularly-diverse Axiom imprint from Island Records, Ritual Beating System is a variation on the so-called "collision music" concept in which Laswell puts musicians of very different backgrounds in a studio to create a hybrid of not just "world music" but music, generally.

In this case, the centerpiece is Brazilian guitarist, percussionist and singer Carlinhos Brown and the drumming ensemble Olodum, the latter a ten-piece group from that same country.  Laswell then brings in many of the "usual suspects" in his roster of musical masters.

These include jazz giants sax player Wayne Shorter, working on the soprano here, and pianist Herbie Hancock, best known as part of Miles Davis' classic 1963-68 quartet; the masterful Henry Threadgill, an alto sax player who focuses, however, on flute on this recording; and the great Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell.  Also on board are Larry Wright and David Chapman on buckets (yes, buckets) and Tony Walls on drums and metal. 

Wright, in particular, has been a legendary plastic bucket drummer in New York and was all of 16 or 17 years old when this record was made and Walls was also known in the city's subway culture as "Tony Pots and Pans" for his creation of a drum kit made entirely of metal objects.  The inclusion of the New York street musicians is an obvious contrast and comparison to the street musicians of Brazil's favelas (shanty towns.)

The disc begins with a gentle and mellow short piece by Brown on guitar and vocals called "Retrato Calado," that leads into "Capitão do Asfalto," in which Olodum provides their percussion background for Brown's sung vocals and rapping that sounds as if it has a scatting element to it. Threadgill's flute is nice touch, as well.  "The Seven Powers" has another Olodum backing percussion rhythm with Hancock's piano and Shorter's soprano getting lots of excellent solo time. 

Brown and Wright then collaborate on the mesmerizing "Uma Viagem del Baldes de Larry Wright," which naturally gives much emphasis on Wright's astounding technique on those plastic buckets!  With that comes a self-titled Olodum showcase that emphasizes an orchestral approach to a consistent rhythm that reminds this listener a bit of the Drummers of Burundi, who will get their feature here some day.

After the drumming workouts comes another cool, laid-back and catchy Brown tune called "Guia Pro Congal" with the Olodum drummers keeping their loy-key steady rhythm and interesting touches towards the end and Worrell providing a nice flow of organ accompaniment.  A second collaboration between Olodum, Hancock and Shorter is "Gwagwa o De," an eight-minute workout that starts with the deep and thundering rhythms of the drumming collective before Hancock enters followed quickly by Shorter's darting, soaring and gorgeous soprano work.  Hancock plays in almost avant-garde way  behind Shorter with hypnotic, shimmering figures.  It is interesting to compare the work of these two jazz legends with their duo record "1 + 1", a 1997 record that is absent of any rhythmic accompaniment.

The Tony Walls feature "Follow Me," is an interesting piece that features him on what appears to be conventional traps with metal pieces and, evdently, some accompaniment by other percussionists, though whether Brown or members of Olodum or both are not noted.  Again, the juxtaposition of Brazilian and American percussionists, in their own way working with African drumming origins with New World modifications, is very interesting and totally cool to here.

Finally, Brown concludes with "Nina in the Womb of the Forest," a short piece with metallic drumming and other percussion textures that takes on a hypnotic ambient vibe as if directly melding African, Brazilian and "Western" elements in a dense electronic and percussive stew.  It's quite a way to end a diverse and fascinating album, another excellent contribution to Laswell's Axiom catalog.

Bahia Black:  Ritual Beating System (Axiom, 1992)

1.  Retrato Calado  2:02
2.  Capitão do Asfalto  5:05
3.  The Seven Powers  7:04
4.  Uma Viagem del Baldes de Larry Wright  3:30
5.  Olodum  3:26
6.  Buia Pro Congal  5:20
7.  Gwagwa o De  8:08
8.  Follow Me  4:22
9.  Nina in the Womb of the Forest  2:26

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