[18 September 2008]
After your first listen to Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits, you’ll quizzically ponder, “How would I best describe these 48 minutes? Is the album a multi-genre smorgasboard? A cerebral dinner-party album? Perhaps ‘polyrhythmic soundscape’ best suits?”
While all those phrases hint at the personality of these 11 tracks, I think you’ll ultimately agree the most apt description is simply this: world music.
The clichéd hallmarks of world music—“foreign” intonations, underscored by a healthy serving of “exotic” sound—are certainly here, but in grand form. This album is a tribute to jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, and Baptista tempts the palate by recalling that artist’s seminal, boundary-stretching trio work with Codona in the 1970s. Like Cherry, Baptista incorporates sitar, tabla, and Brazilian-influenced percussion into a jazz framework, sending your aural compass spinning in search of a cultural source. It is ultimately a very satisfying search, as other instruments—oud, keys, mbira, accordion, cello, and a wide variety of percussion devices—join in to propel the expedition. Far-reaching, yet efficiently crafted, Banquet of the Spirits reigns in “world” music to refine and define its own distinctive world.
Although the get-up-and-go psychedelic rock punch of “Tutubole” opens the album, it is the six-plus shape-shifting minutes of “Bird Boy” that best introduce the album’s tempestuous tenor. After a waltzing start, the song takes flight into a percussive Hammond-led dance frenzy. A team of ethnomusicologists would scratch their heads at “Macunaima”, as it squeezes light-hearted exotica, free jazz, post-bop, and wall-of-sound rock into seven deliriously exhausting and enjoyable minutes. Indeed, this initial half of the album echoes Baptista’s previous releases on Tzadik—2002’s Beat the Donkey and 2005’s Love the Donkey—by reimagining his Brazilian roots with a variety of downtown influences to stamp out a unique brand of upbeat party music.
The latter half of Banquet turns down the volume slightly and showcases Baptista’s compositional skill and aptitude in forging connections between longitudes. “Tupinambás” is a two-minute classical reverie which segues into the Middle East exotica of “Argan”. A typewriter offers percussion for the minimalist “Typing with Oswald de Andrade” before the mourning oud number “Lamento Mourisco” transitions into the delightfully airy Cherry cover “Malinye”.
The last track, “Anthropofagia”, is a mostly spoken-word, tongue-in-cheek treatise focusing on both literal and metaphorical cannibalism. It culminates:
We eat everything that arrives in our country
We ate the American Constitution…
Jimi Hendrix… Shakespeare… JFK… Donald Trump…
Jumbo trains… Charlie Parker… Hollywood… Imperialism…
And we keep eating and eating forever
We never stop!
The track then bursts into an anthemic climax of sound that shuffles across disparate tempos and rhythmic rudiments to close the heady Banquet with a bang. It’s his skillful, cannibalistic genre-absorption that has prompted several prominent one-namers to call on Cyro for his expertise—including Sting, Yo-Yo, Herbie, Simon, and Trey—during this artist’s 30 years of residence in the US. I guarantee that Baptista’s name appears within the liner notes of any discerning record collection. Banquet of the Spirits is a necessary addition to those shelves. Let’s hope Baptista never gets full and continues to serve up delicacies as delicious as this.