Thursday, January 14, 2010

Richmond Road Trip

Bio Ritmo update...

How to shoot with no light? I explored this concept up at Balliceaux in Richmond Tuesday night, my first chance in eons to catch up on my Bio Ritmo lore and shoot video of their new songs. Working with silhouettes and sound, you can feel your way; low-light stills fill in the blanks. This is the afrobeat coda to "Seguiras Criticando," with a Manu Dibango-style sax solo by J.C. Kuhl:

bio ritmo

bio ritmo

bio ritmo

Not only is Bio Ritmo playing tons of new material, they're recording--4 songs are already down, and partial tracks for 4 others, under the eye and ear of Grammy-winning producer Aaron Levinson at a local Richmond studio.

Taking stock of personnel changes during the last year (has it really been that long??), I met three new players, some subbing, some permanent. Conguero Gabo Tomasini relocated from Richmond to Brooklyn a few months ago; he plays their (now frequent) NYC gigs, but Nicolai Creatore plays their dirty south gigs. Nick, one of the chefs at Balliceaux, lived in Brazil as a kid, so he's no stranger to Latin/Caribbean rhythms like samba and reggae. He's also played in D.C.'s gogo scene.

bio ritmo

Bongocero, not always a regularly-held seat in Bio Ritmo, was manned (in style) by Arnaldo Marrero, a leading Latin DJ in Charlottesville. Robin Lugo, leader of the Virginia Beach band Tumbao Salsero, was also in attendance, and he sat in on bell and bongo during the end-of-show descarga.

Brass has seen the departure of trumpeter Tim Lett, who got married and had a baby (congratulations, Tim). Once a 2-trumpet, 2-trombone section, with nary a saxophone, the brass are now 1-1-1, with the addition of J.C. Kuhl on saxophone. Holding strong are "Mambo" Bob Miller on trumpet, and Toby Whitaker on lone trombone.

Former trombonist Stefan Demetriadis, who left the band in 2005, was among the onlookers at this free show, which drew a packed crowd to see the salsa band whose once-weekly gigs have become a rarity in Richmond. Another ex-homey in the house was Jonny Sullivan, the edgy, meteroic bass player who was part of Ritmo's regenerative spurt back around 2003.

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Bio Ritmo's Toby Whitaker

One of the biggest stories of the night for me was Toby Whitaker, the band's dapper, softspoken (offstage) trombonist, who is really coming into his own as a songwriter. Two smokers, "La Muralla" and "Verguenza," stemmed from Toby's pen, featuring dark, urgent sonorities and extremely tasty brass parts. "Verguenza," below, features solos by Mambo Bob, trumpet, and Giustino Riccio, timbales:

The other new tunes I heard were "Majadero," and "La Verdad," both with straightforward, yet amenable dance grooves. Sonero Rei Alvarez is still the band's lyricist. Can't wait to hear all these tunes evolve and most of all, how Levinson will massage the Ritmo sound, after their last two albums engineered by Jon Fausty. Rei says the new CD will include a re-recording of "Lola," from their very first 1996 album, still a staple of their live show.

I fell in love with what was happening with this band in 2003, and my heart still belongs to Bio Ritmo. Though a lot of their energy these days is devoted to side projects, such as the bolero revival band Miramar, it's nice to see that Bio Ritmo, far from slowing down, is sounding as solid as ever. It's been too, too long since they toured down this a'way; anyone in the mood for a Bio Ritmo / Miramar double-header?

Sightreading! Bio Ritmo Setlist, 1/12/10

Timbalero Giustino Riccio composes the setlists and writes copies out by hand for everyone in the band. This one is almost true to life; only the order of the last two songs was reversed:
bio ritmo
"A La Cha" (as it appears on the CD, Biónico), seems to be written "Allah Cha" here; a play on words on that song's middle eastern vibe?

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