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Cyro Baptista and Banquet of Spirits, Live at Herrick Chapel, 2016-09-09

I’ve never written a concert review before. But tonight’s concert was so amazing that I felt I had to. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not sure if anyone will want to read this, but it’s what I felt I should write about.

Tonight I was privileged to see a concert by Cyro Baptista and Banquet of spirits, a jazz (hmm … is that too limiting) quartet. I went to the concert not knowing what I’d see and hear, and left charged and energized. The concert reminded me why I love live music, and why so many people particularly love live jazz.

I’m not sure that I can put what was special about the concert into words, but I’m going to try.

Many things come together to make Cyro Baptista and Banquet of Spirits powerful performers. First, each is clearly stellar on his own instrument or genre of instruments (two percussionists, one keyboardist, one bassist/lute player) and they all sang well. But individual musicians alone do not make a great concert. As importantly, they clearly know each other well, respect each other, and listen to each other, as it were. It was great seeing how well they played off of each other, and to see them paying close attention to what whoever was leading was doing. That close interplay reminds me of why people play in bands

I particularly appreciate that Baptista worked to involve the audience in that interplay, at least a few times. In more than one place, he conducted us, as it were. Sometimes having the audience join in seems cheesy, but he successfully made us part of the pieces.

The musicians clearly have fun playing. I saw a lot of spontaneous joy and laughter among the close attention and careful playing. That joy also extends to their use of instrumentation. I love that they like bringing in more than just standard instruments to get the sounds they want. The keyboardist used six different instruments, if I count correctly (a Steinway grand, some synthesizer, two melodicas, an electric organ, and some stringed instrument I could not identify from the audience). Both percussionists used dozens of different sound-making devices, including things as atypical as a megaphone and what seemed to be plastic caps strung together. Having heard the wide variety of sounds that Baptista could get from a simple tambourine, it’s clear to me that he really does find that he thinks carefully about how to broaden his palette with these other instruments.

Like all good live jazz, it was clear that this concert centered around common songs (or perhaps song structures) that all musicians new, but there was enormous space for them to improvise in the middle. And the sounds varied immensely, from a solid groove + melody to some fairly atonal things and even some surf guitar (or, more precisely, surf bass), sometimes even in the same song.

What else? Kudos to the hard work of the soundman, Iuri Oriente. Clearly, as Baptista and the rest switched instruments, he had to work carefully to make sure the balance remained good. I certainly wouldn’t want to try to do that with all that was going on on the stage.

Talented musicians who know each other well and are clearly having fun. An appreciative (and involved) audience. Clever approaches. It made for an excellent evening.

Plus, Baptista wears Crocs!

Version 1.0.1 of 2016-09-12.