Friday, August 22, 2014

Eight-Time Grammy Nominee Michael Spiro & Ritmos Unidos Take a Pan-Caribbean Journey With New CD - Ritmos Unidos

Think of the Caribbean as a vast and far-flung laboratory, with thousands of researchers constantly investigating and refining a dazzling array of African diaspora rhythms.  Ritmos Unidos is a rare ensemble that draws inspiration from various corners of the region, from sacred Santeria rituals of Cuba to the celebratory carnival grooves of Trinidad and Tobago.  Under the direction of renowned percussionist Michael Spiro the band makes a major leap with its second, self-named album, an ambitious project centering on two extended pieces that encompass several profound rhythmic currents. "Our intent isn't to play one style," says Spiro, an eight-time Grammy nominee with deep and abiding ties to Cuba. "Ritmos Unidos means we're bringing many different rhythms together.  It's a little bit different from what other Latin bands are doing."

While Spiro maintains closely associated with the Bay Area Latin music scene, he's also based in Bloomington since taking on a tenured position at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 2011.  Looking for opportunities to play with likeminded musicians, he gathered together an impressive cast of fellow faculty, alumni and grad students connected to IU, and ended up recording the 2012 album Funklorico, a critically hailed project that immediately put the band on the Midwest's Latin music map.  With its incisive solos, skin-tight ensemble work, and savvy arrangemetns, Ritmos Unidos elevates the band from a regional phenomenon to a national force.  "I'm always looking for ways to move the band forward, and the best way to do that is you have another project," Sprio says. 

Tha album opens with the title track; a hip piece co-written by Spiro and trombonist Wayne Wallace that draws on timba and songo, two potent Cuban grooves that continue to dominate in Havana.  The album's conceptual centerpiece is the "Ochun Shuite," a three-part invocation of the Afro-Cuban orisha who presides over love, intimacy, beauty, and weath. After the Afro-Cuban incantation, the band evokes to jazz giants with beautifully Latinized arrangements of classic tunes. Wes Montgomery's 'Road Song" bounes along stylishly as a cha-cha-cha, eventually shifting into higher gear as the hard-charging  NG la-banda style vocals importune the orisha Ellegua.  Taking a similar tack with Wayne Shorter's mysterious 'water Babies," the band opens and closed with Afro-Cuban call and response, while translating the tune's waltz-like feel into an earthy 12/8 Latin jazz work out.  The album concludes with a pan-Caribbean excursion.  

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