Matuto, SOBs, The Devil and The Diamond
Matuto can start with an unexpected arrangement of an old chestnut like "Wayfaring Stranger" (resulting in "Diamond"), or with harmonium lines from a jam session with an Indian vocalist ("Tears"). Inspiration may come from Recife ("Toca Do Sino") or from Carolina childhood horseplay sessions ("Horse Eat Corn").
But it all comes together, as far-flung sounds converge in coherent, seamless songs, in music leaping beyond the fun of fusion, to express a bigger artistic picture, be it a tale of thwarted desire or the challenge of tussling with inner demons.
"Trimming the fat, that's the idea of the record, both lyrically and sonically," Ross notes. "Musically, it was more about editing instead of layering, more about things that we took away, as opposed to things that we added. The last record has this massive band, whereas we simply use the sound of our six-piece live band this time around. It gives the songs real continuity, as there's a similar sonic palette."
Ross, whose parents thought he'd grow up to be a preacher, and Curto found they were both deeply moved by the practices of Buddhism, in particular the self-observation and compassion that are cultivated by meditation. Images arising from the Diamond Cutter Sutra and life lessons gleaned from long sessions sitting in silence guided the shape of the album.
Yet another current-the sensual danger and madcap renewal of the pre-Lenten carnival season across the Americas-sidled up to the songs' suggested spiritual journey. The juxtaposition and tensions make instrumentals like "Demon Chopper," a title suggested by a high-strung acupuncturist's announcement of her powers, poignant and catchy at once, as rippling guitar, fiddle, and accordion solos shine against a backdrop of earthy Afro-Brazilian beats. "Tears" feels as ear-catching as a well-crafted, bittersweet pop song, though based on afoxê beats connected to the Afro-Brazilian religious rituals of candomblé and powered by modal, distorted blasts of accordion.
The mix of bluegrass and forró, of Mehta and Mardi Gras, has proven to have real legs, taking the band from club dates in the Deep South to diplomacy-minded State Department tours across Eastern Europe and West Africa. A showcase in Copenhagen got the band a gig at one of the most staunchly traditional festivals in Recife, the Feast of St. John, Brazil's biggest forró event. The traditionalists get it: Matuto has distilled some of the spirit of the music, even as they have blended it with other sounds, and kept its steamy, sensual dance side intact.
"Matuto does what we do out of love," reflects Ross, "and our message is simple: Follow your passion, if it leads you to Brazil, or to Cajun, klezmer, or hip hop music, it doesn't matter. Just follow your bliss. Follow it and don't worry."
"We feel that way playing music together," Curto adds. "We can just look at each other and start laughing. There's a lot of humor and joy, even in the most serious moments."