Make no mistake -- Beat the Donkey (translated from the Portuguese "Pau la Mula" as "let's go" or "let's do it") is not a reference to animal cruelty, but percussion Cyro Baptista's calling card to party. This debut recording for the group is split into fragments of small ensembles, a rotating cadre of players (a sextet at best) from many different disciplines. They range from riotous celebratory dance to multi-ethnic elements, cerebral, lighthearted, at times goofy and at other times heavy. There is no real core band, but rather a Gypsy circus loose association with Baptista clearly the madcap ringleader. Brazilian music can be the center of Beat the Donkey, but also Balkan sounds, nomadic music, rock and funk, and a festive attitude that surely appeals to summertime outdoor merrymaking. Carnival meets hard rock circus at a stoner party during "Caranguejo Estrela Brilhante" (The Crab and the Shining Star) with fuzz guitar from Viva DeConcini and electric cello by Erik Friedlander; an expressive madlib rock & roll style identifies "O Canto da Ema," centered by Marc Ribot's wah-wah guitar; and the ethnic "Mr. Bugaloo" is a percussion workout accented by John Zorn's sax and the accordion of Toninho Ferragutti. On the softer side is the excellent "Parar de Fumar," a pleasant straight samba with featured clarinetist Anat Cohen. A circular acoustic guitar from Ribot during "Cyrandeiro" recalls West African kora music, while the sweet "Sapo and the Prince" has the wonderful vocalist Luciana Souza singing encouragement to a frog reluctantly turned prince, shaded by blown bottle sounds and finger snaps. "Rio de Jakarta" is the perfect melding of Balinese gamelan and layered Brazilian rhythms; a 6/8 "Ama" is rife with handclaps, the melody expertly played by guitarist Romero Lubambo similar to the Gypsy anthem "Dark Eyes"; while bloogles or sound tubes send the band into space during the dark and bizarre "Sweet Cuica" and the percussion-based "Funk I," the latter piece recorded live at La Plaza in Boston via radio station WGBH-FM. At some point, a more extensive live recording with a fixed band should be in the offering to fully hear Beat the Donkey's worldwide, expressive, and exuberant repertoire.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos