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Baila! Gitano Baila!

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Album Review

After percussionist/composer Roberto Juan Rodriguez's stunning Tzadik debut, El Danzon de Moises, he turns once more to his now trademark meld of Latin and Jewish music. Featuring multi-instrumentalist Matt Darriau on clarinet and trumpet (among other things), accordionist and Hammond B-3 whiz (strained through a Leslie, no less!) Ted Reichman, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, violinists Meg Okura and Sam Bardfeld, cellist Mary Wooten, Brad Jones on the traditional bajo, and guest Roberto Luis Rodriguez on everything from trumpet to valve trombone, Baila! Gitano Baila! is a tour de force of swirling old-world Jewish melodies and Latin rhythms and harmonics with an occasional mariachi touch thrown in for good measure. All but one of the album's ten tracks were composed by Rodriquez. First there's the klezmer cum Cuban son orgy of "Wolfie's Corner," followed by the sweet pasodobles/mariachi dance processional that is "Paseo del Prado." Then there's the funky meringue meets wedding dance whirl of the title track. But the album's pearl is its final cut, a radical reworking of Naftule Brandwein's "Turkish-Bulgarish," where gypsy street music meets Afro-Cuban strut. This tune burns and is akin in spirit and feel to Santana's "Soul Sacrifice," and lasts over 11 minutes. Baila! Gitano Baila! is a musical and transcultural journey of delight, surprise, humor, and elegance. Rodriguez is an arranger who understands the subtleties in blending two seemingly different musics seamlessly, and he also tosses the blatant differences into the mix to his advantage. This music swings, sweeps, swirls, weeps, moans, and laughs until the tears fall. The secret is in neither Latin nor Jewish but rather in the groove; he gets it from the ground and screws it down, down, down into the bloodstream of the astonished listener.

Baila! Gitano Baila!, Septeto Rodriguez
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