This 1998 release by Brazilian percussion god Dom Um Ramao marks his first solo recording in more than 30 years. Romao has been an in-demand session player since the mid-'60s and was one of the founding members of Weather Report. His own albums on the late, great Muse label, one named eponymously and the other entitled Spirit of the Times, were rhythm orgies that pasted together all of the traditions he'd worked in up until that time: from Sergio Mendes and Sinatra to Flora, Airto, and Weather Report. Rhythm Traveler is a return, of sorts, in that it is an engagement with Brazilian song forms from both folk musics and popular song, all translated through a jazzman's manner of hearing. Romao enlisted the help of some of Brazil's hottest players and singers, including string boss Nelson Angelo, Fabio Fonseco, and the incomparably wonderful Ithamara Koorax on vocals. The track listing is a meld of originals and tunes chosen carefully for the way rhythm interacts with melody, such as Deodato's "Capoeria Chant," Quincy Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova," Wayne Shorter's "Mysterious Traveler," and Carlos Pingarilo's mesmerizing "Samba De Rei." Romao's compositions (he wrote four tunes here, all of them wonderful) center on the various seams of Brazilian music and American jazz. Where the light, breezy samba of Pingarihlo's "De Serra Pro Mar," is driven by a lilting acoustic guitar and flute as a melody frame, Romao layers in a spare, hypnotic bassline and percussion on all the margins of the tune to give it an exotic, captivating effect of being drawn into somewhere delightfully mysterious. Likewise, the steaming opener "Sinistro" is nothing but rhythms from tribal to the present, overlapping and intertwining kick drums and all manner of hand percussion. Ultimately, Rhythm Traveler is as solid as, if not more so than, Romao's earlier efforts and carries within its grooves an accessibility that will attract even novitiate Brazilian fans.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek