Mixed media

By JON GARELICK  |  November 18, 2009

If Ojala was defined by voice and horns, Sube Azul and the Regattabar show were defined by percussion and voice. Instead of standard trap sets, Pérez-Albela and Mantilla played modified sets of frame drums and various traditional instruments like the cajón, or box drum, and they played with brushes, soft mallets, or their hands rather than sticks. "I wanted to avoid the usual drum sets," Koutsovitis told me after the show. "Too much metal for me — I wanted to hear more wood and skin." So despite all those drums, there was dynamic and textural variety, and when the drummers' complementary patterns locked in as one with Roeder and Kurimski, the entire band seemed raised on a pocket of air.

The album's first tune was also the show's: "Coplera," named for female street singers of Argentina who accompany themselves with a drum. Koutsovitis played a fur-skinned bombo with a mallet, singing deep tones with a delay effect while Genovese harmonized on melodica and Roeder joined in on bowed bass. It was a dreamy modern gloss on an old tradition.

Koutsovitis's savvy arrangements of originals and covers kept juggling instrumentation and modulated dynamics — soft, rubato introductions segueing into rollicking 6/8 dance themes. There were spellbinding duets with Roeder and Genovese, call-and-response vocals with the band, and two-beat audience clap-alongs. And always those rhythms — from Argentine zamba (not Brazilian samba, she was quick to point out) to Peruvian lando to Argentine chacarera, on which she accompanied herself with the tiny 10-string charanga. She explained the Spanish lyrics of loss, hardship, and celebration, but the music didn't need much in the way of translation. The meaning was in her voice and in the sound of this band.

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