Matuto (ma-two-toe) is Brazilian slang for country boy.
-Official Selection of Womex 2011
-Various Top 20 Lists of World Music Albums of 2011
-Winners of US State Department "American Music Abroad"
“Weird and Wonderful… Unorthodox and Delightful”
- Jazz Times Magazine
“Mr. Ross is a very deft guitarist with a rich vocabulary of folk, blues, and jazz at his disposal.” – Wall Street Journal
“Spanning continents with a down-home sensibility
and an explorer's curiosity.”
- All About Jazz
“Irresistible… Imaginiative Improvising”
- Los Angeles Times
“America’s finest purveyors of the forró sound”
- San Francisco Bay Guardian
Fun as Hell: Matuto’s Seductive Philosophical Trip through Brazilian Beats and Southern Roots on The Devil and The Diamond
Rolling drums and quicksilver accordion licks, earthy vibes and thoughtful reflections mingle on Matuto’s latest refinement of their Appalachia-gone-Afro-Brazilian sound, The Devil and The Diamond (Motema Music; release: February 12, 2013).
Matuto’s songs can sway hips just as easily as spark insights. Drawing on Northeastern Brazil’s folkloric rhythms like forró, maracatu, or coco, and on deep Americana—from bluegrass to spirituals to swampy Louisiana jams—Matuto uses unexpected Pan-American sonic sympathies to craft appealing, roosty, yet philosophical tales of love, self-discovery, nostalgia, and true peace.
What wide-ranging Americana and jazz guitarist Clay Ross and accordionist Rob Curto, began as a curious exploration of their shared musical loves, Matuto has blossomed into a platform for expressing broad truths, ideas inspired by Buddhist sutras, personal epiphanies, and the musicians’ down-home upbringings.
"Matuto combines Brazilian forró and American bluegrass into an infectious rhythm that immediately got our audience engaged and moving. Superb Show!" - Ralph Russo - Cultural Arts Director - University of Wisconsin, Madison
"Matuto's rocking combination of Brazilian forro and American bluegrass music was a killer addition to World Music Festival Chicago: 2013. Their awesome songs, great musicianship, and interaction with our audiences was fantastic. We'd book them again in a second." - Jack McLarnan / Coordinator / World Music Festival Chicago
"Matuto was a great addition to our world music festival this year. Our audience responded to the music immediately and packed the dance floor without hesitation. Great musicians and strong vocalists contributed to a magnificent set." - Bob Queen-- Madison(WI) World Music Festival Artist Selection Committee
"Bringing Matuto to Recife, Brazil to perform as part of Luiz Gonzaga’s 100th anniversary celebration was an emotional and enriching experience. It was a very unconventional proposal to present a band from New York at such a traditional festival, but Matuto completely connected with the public and media, and made this an unforgettable São João!” - Patricia Vita-Vila de Todos os Santos-Pernambuco-Brasil
"There were many stages to watch at Womex 2011, but when I heard the sound of the accordion mixed with percussion, and saw the enormous enthusiasm, authenticity, and passion of the musicians, I decided not just to watch the show, but to bring Matuto to Brazil! And it was a total success!” Sonally Pires-Abril Pro Rock-Pernambuco-Brasil
"Matuto is simply one of the most innovative groups we have presented in the last several years, with smart and fresh arrangements, where traditional North American music beautifully embraces Brazilian rhythm... What a joy!" - Alfredo Caxaj, Executive Director - Sunfest - London, Ontario
"Matuto were great in every way. They are fabulous musicians, delightful to work with, and they brought the crowds to their feet creating joyous feelings all around! Before the concert was over we were already planning to have them back!" - Liz Reese, Warwick Summer Arts Festival - Warwick, NY
"Even at the back of the house, you could feel the electricity in the air. It was so much more than I expected from listening to cuts on your website. I expected the great musicianship, but what I didn't expect was your immense charm and your ability to impart to your audience the total joy of being alive. I can't recall a night quite like it in the Kip. Thank you, thank you! Come back soon!!!!" - Katy Heine, Events Coordinator - Cornell University - Ithaca, NY
"Matuto was a complete unknown to our audience at the beginning of the night, but by the end of the concert they were beloved by all. Young and old danced in the aisles to a type of music that many had never heard before. The band showered the old Opera House with pure joy and our audience has rarely been so happy! The energy that Clay and the band brought to the stage pulsed through the house and seeped into the walls! The musicianship, eclectic instruments, and intimate story telling had the multi-generational crowd completely mesmerized. This performance far exceeded our expectations and I've continued to get positive feedback even weeks later!" - Cathy Sherrill, Executive Director - The Opera House - Boothbay Harbor, ME
Clay Ross - Vocals, Guitar, Percussion
Rob Curto - Vocals, Percussion, Accordion
Mazz Swift - Vocals, Fiddle
Richie Barshay - Drums, Percussion
Ze Mauricio - Drums, Percussion, berimbau, Pandiero, Caixa, Tamborime, Alfia, Gonge, Zambumba, Agogo
Mike Lavalle - Bass
The Devil and The Diamond (2013 Motema Music)
Matuto (2011 Galileo MC Records)
Clay Ross - Matuto (2009 Ropeadope Records)
5 Must-See Acts at World Music Festival Chicago
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If purveyors of the high lonesome sound had hunkered down in northeast Brazil, the result might be s...If purveyors of the high lonesome sound had hunkered down in northeast Brazil, the result might be something
like Matuto. Based in New York City and fronted by American-born fusionists Clay Ross and Rob Curto, Matuto
builds on a foundation of forro, the accordion/percussion-based folk style popularized by the legendary Luiz
Gonzaga, “The Soul of the Sertao” (“sertao” being the term for Brazil’s arid Brazilian hinterlands). Widely
regarded as the foremost ambassador of forro, Curto takes the accordion to town in unlikely selections such as
the traditional blues ballad “John the Revelator.” Matuto means “bumpkin” in Brazilian slang, but this band aims
for the heights of world-music sophistication.
World Music Festival returns
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Matuto: The joyous, ebullient music of Matuto merges the forro folkloric music of Brazil with the so...Matuto: The joyous, ebullient music of Matuto merges the forro folkloric music of Brazil with the sounds of all-American bluegrass. Violin, accordion and a range of Brazilian percussion give this band, founded by South Carolina native Clay Ross, a seductively cross-cultural appeal. Chicago samba band Swing Brasileiro shares the bill. 7 p.m. Friday at Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State St. Matuto also appears 5 p.m. Saturday at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.
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“In the past 3 years, he was the guy in the band who evolved the most, turning into this incredible,...“In the past 3 years, he was the guy in the band who evolved the most, turning into this incredible, multidimensional musician. I don’t feel like Clay just went and got a rhythm from Brazil and put another music style on top. He assimilated Northeastern Brazilian music and created a new conception.” – Cyro Baptista in the Down Beat Magazine Feature.
“Countrified licks and insinuating samba groves merge in weird and wonderful ways on this unorthodox and delightful debut.” – Jazz Times Magazine
“spanning continents with a down-home sensibility and an explorer’s curiosity.” – All About Jazz
“Ross has earned Jazz Ambassador status for his guitar stylings, but his new disc, Matuto, is a subtle blend of bluegrass and baiao that adds playful vocals, cavaquinho, and kashaka to his musical arsenal.” – Bold Life Magazine
“hits upon the shared joy in rural music from everywhere.” – Free Times, Columbia SC
“Best of 2009 World Music… Telecaster-wielding songwriter Clay Ross is leading the guitar-meets-world revolution” - wnyc.org
“Clay Ross thinks like a Poet, writes like a Novelist and plays the guitar like a Master.” – Jambase.com
“Sly, subtle wit colors his guitar style: playful and humorous but deeply complex.”– Jambands.com
“Ross makes music that swirls samba and other Latin rhythms around while retaining a melodic essence intimately familiar to most Americans… the tracks have the easy appeal one would expect from the source materials… Ross feels as at ease with one style as another, making the blend all the more organic…it’s true world beat.” – TheBigTakeover.com
“Clay Ross demonstrated that not all Americans who have the will to be Brazilian are boring…His sound tries to mix the old west and the sertão in a stylized way, but it’s all so much fun that it doesn’t sound artificial.” – Reciferock.com
“a stunning cross-cultural statement”– Limewire.com
“Clay Ross and his MATUTO group really shook the place up – Bluegrass Hillbilly meets Brazilian Folk Beats in a head-on celebration – !! – making this nite on par with the top 5 mostmemorable live music acts we have ever seen, and we’ve seen a few !!! MATUTO – is a LIVEWIRE ACT – you do NOT !! want to miss.” – Artloversny.com
“…restrained virtuosic skill and a joyful anything-goes attitude…a unique musical vision.” – Virginian Pilot
“Clay has a passionate, unique and personal voice that awakens feelings in audiences. On the improvisational side, he has listened to the greatest of those who are speaking, and this adds to his own distinct voice: a sweet, sometimes melancholic, but always precise one.” – Jazzreview.com
Wall Street Journal: Preview
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With his project Matuto, guitarist Clay Ross marries Appalachian folk music with Brazilian percussio...With his project Matuto, guitarist Clay Ross marries Appalachian folk music with Brazilian percussion to whip up an infectious hybrid, as demonstrated on the group's 2009 self-titled album. Flutes and fiddles fly over polyrhythms, an accordion flits in and out, and Mr. Ross's matter-of-fact vocals come along now and then to calm the center. Mr. Ross is a very deft guitarist with a rich vocabulary of folk, blues and jazz at his disposal, and while a sly sense of humor informs much of the music, don't be surprised if a moving piece or two gives the set an enriching contrast. Perhaps the group will perform the gospel blues "John the Revelator," which, on "Matuto," transports Son House to northeast Brazil. By the way, if you can't make it to Park Slope for Matuto's 10 p.m. set on Saturday, the group will be at Nublu on Friday, 55 Bar on Sunday and Rodeo Bar on Monday.
Maracatu Odyssey - Downbeat Magazine
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Clay Ross embarked on a musical odyssey in 2002 that wound up taking him close to home. The So... Clay Ross embarked on a musical odyssey in 2002 that wound up taking him close to home. The South Carolina native moved to New York to pursue a jazz career, and several years later visited Recife in Northeastern Brazil to study the region's folkloric music. Along the way, the guitarist and singer rediscovered the straightforward songs of his native South.
"After so many years of chasing the jazz guitar esthetic, and trying to put as many extensions in the chord as possible, and trying to play as complicated a music as I could imagine, there was something that I discovered in the power of a simple triad," Ross said. "It somehow resonated more profoundly, more strongly and with more intent than anything I had heard in five years. But then when I started to look into it deeper I realized, hey, this is just folk music, and I have my own folk music that I ignored all these years. So let me take a deeper look at that."
Ross titled his third release, Matuto (Ropeadope), after a Portuguese-language reference to a man from the back country. The set allows Ross to carve out a nich in a music tradition created on another continent. He performs folk songs like "Home Sweet Home" and Blind Willie Johnson's "John the Revelator" over Brazilian Maracatu, Forro, and Coco rhythms that typically receive exposure in February and March during Carnaval.
Ross' band features violin, flute, accordion, bass, and drums, and also includes various Brazilian drums and percussion instruments: the alfaia, a large, wooden, rope-tuned bass drum; the pandeiro, a Brazilian tambourine; the berimbau, a single-stringed instrument sruck with a small stick; and the agogo, a pair of small, pitched metal bells.
"I love all these rhythms, I love all this music, but I'm not going to try and do it as if I'm a Brazilian." Ross said. "I'm going to do it in an honest way, and in a way that allows me to take stuff out of my culture, too."
Maracatu, forro, and coco originated in Recife, where simple song structure and syncopated rhythms typify the music of this part of northeastern Brazil. The music enjoyed a revival in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when traditional groups consisting of rabeca (a Brazilian Violin), accordion, triangle, and zabumba (a two headed Brazilian bass drum) incorporated Western instruments associated with jazz and rock. The music enjoys a rising profile in New York.
Ross grew up in Anderson, S.C., and discovered jazz while attending the College of Charleston. As a freshman Ross happened to hear a combo at a coffeehouse; he befriended the musicians and learned the repertoire of songbook standards and bop tunes. By the late 1990s he had joined the Gradual Lean, a quartet that continues to attract a following in the college town.
Ross opened for John Scofield, Maceo Parker and the Jazz Mandolin Project before moving to Brooklyn, NY, in 2002. He performed with accordion player Victor Prieto, and later recorded with Scott Kettner's Nation Beat and Cyro Baptista's Beat the Donkey, whose respective repertoires emphasize northeastern Brazilian music. Since 2006 Ross has traveled to Brazil four times, studying and performing alongside Brazilian musicians.
Baptista introduced Ross to the possibilities inherent in combining northeastern Brazilian music with other music styles. Ross, in turn, made a strong impression on Baptista, whom he's toured with since 2005. "In the past three years, he was the guy in the band who evolved the most, turning into this incredible, multidimensional musician," Baptista said. "I don't feel like Clay just went and got a rhythm from Brazil and put another music style on the top. He assimilated northeastern Brazilian music and created a new conception." - Eric Fine, Downbeat Magazine, Jan. 2010
Jazz Times Magazine - Nov. 2009
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A hotshot Telecaster picker from South Carolina, Clay Ross immersed himself in Brazilian street beat...A hotshot Telecaster picker from South Carolina, Clay Ross immersed himself in Brazilian street beats as a member of Cyro Baptista’s Beat The Donkey. The two elements – countrified licks and insinuating samba grooves – merge in weird and wonderful ways on this unorthodox and delightful debut. The bluegrass-meets-Brazil formula works best on “Recife”, “Zydeco Mondo” and “Church Street Blues”. He also delivers a raw-voiced rendition of Blind Willie Johnson’s “John The Revelator,” accompanied only by Baptista’s berimbau – until the batucada percussion ensemble kicks in.
All About Jazz - Cd Review Nov. 2009
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In Brazilian Portuguese, matuto signifies a backwoods country hillbilly. Guitarist, vocalist and Sou...In Brazilian Portuguese, matuto signifies a backwoods country hillbilly. Guitarist, vocalist and South Carolina native Clay Ross knows a thing or two about these types of folks, and finds common ground between their counterparts across the equator on Matuto, his eclectic debut for Ropeadope Records.
Ross is something of a polymath, handling guitar, vocals and lyrics as well as the Brazilian cavaquinho guitar and kashakas percussion. His vision for this project is unique; with a mix of originals and covers that melds many musical traditions under one big, open umbrella. He's also assembled a killer band, including appearances from guests including master Brazilian percussionists Cyro Baptista and Ze Mauricio.
The opener, "Recife," mixes heavy funk with Appalachian fiddle jams and a Northeast Brazilian lilt, befitting the capital city after which the tune is named. Ross' guitar twang and Itai Kriss' flute create some flavorful unison melodies before nailing a tight ensemble finish. The expert percussion on "What a Day" sounds authentically Brazilian from the downbeat, supporting Ross' colorfully satirical lyrics. Lines that reference brushing teeth, underwear and taking pills recall the transgressive absurdity of some of David Byrne's work, as well as tropicália artists like Tom Zé and Caetano Veloso, who inspired the Talking Heads singer.
A handful of interpretations of American traditional songs display Ross' wide-ranging influences, and are fitting additions to this project. "Banks of the Ohio" begins as a plaintive vocal and accordion ballad, before entering New Orleans territory courtesy of guest drummer Richie Barshay, who also appears on the bluegrass-flavored "Church Street Blues." "John the Revelator" is a highlight, done with a skeletal arrangement of vocals over explosive Brazilian rhythms. Ross' voice sounds convincing in this context, like a real Southern preacher should, while the one-stringed berimbau resonates in a strangely effective turn as the main blues riff.
"Zydaco Mondo" is a tasty piece of instrumental funk, with heavy flute work by Kriss in tandem with guitar and fiddle; it wouldn't be out of place on a 1970s album by Brazilian fusionists Dom um Romao or João Donato. "Maria's Lullaby" takes a left turn into Beatlesque pop, albeit underlined with a fresh Brazilian beat, creating a modern blend somewhere between Os Mutantes and Radiohead. "Feel, Like a Song" ends the disc with another twist, a piece of cinematic ambience that recalls Bill Frisell's approach to ballads.
Oftentimes, cross-cultural fusions of this kind sound better on paper than in performance, but Ross displays an honest combination of his own background in American roots and pop music with the incorporation of genuine Brazilian styles like maracatu. In doing so, he proves himself to be a modern matuto, spanning continents with a down-home sensibility and an explorer's curiosity.
Track listing: Recife; What a Day; Remember Calabash; Banks of the Ohio; Zydaco Mondo; Church Street Blues; Maria's Lullaby; Home Sweet Home; John the Revelator; Dream of Life; Feel, Like a Song.
Personnel: Clay Ross: guitars, vocals, cavaquinho, kashakas; Itai Kriss: flute; Rob Hecht: fiddle; Rob Curto: accordion; Edward Perez: bass; Tim Keiper: drums; Scott Kettner: percussion; Richie Barshay: drums (4, 6); Olivier Manchon: violin, viola, viocello (7); Merideth Hite: oboe, English horn (11); Cyro Baptista: voice, percussion (11); Ze Mauricio: percussion (1, 2); Eduardo Guedes: percussion (7).
Feats of Clay
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By the time this article hits the stands, Clay Ross will be safely back in his apartment in Brooklyn...By the time this article hits the stands, Clay Ross will be safely back in his apartment in Brooklyn's Park Slope district, having just spent two weeks serenading his old southern stomping grounds with the music of Matuto. It took four trips to the Brazilian countryside to bring the 32-year-old native of Anderson, SC to the music of Bill Monroe. Ross has earned Jazz Ambassador status for his guitar stylings, but his new disc, Matuto (Ropeadope), is a subtle blend of bluegrass and baiao that adds playful vocals, cavaquinho and kashaka to his musical arsenal.
Ross grew up hearing his father's classic rock, and, like most kids learning guitar in the early '90s, he loved Metallica and wanted to play heavy metal. Discovering that guitar hero Randy Rhoads also played classical, Ross began studying classical. "I'd go through phases with guitarists," he explains. "I'd pick a guy that I was in awe of, study them for maybe a year, imitate them, transcribe their solos, try to put things into my playing."
After enrolling at College of Charleston, he met jazz drummer Quentin Baxter, and soon was soaking up a different strain of guitarists — the likes of Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. "Those early Pat Martino records with Don Patterson on organ," he says. "His lines were awesome. I still have some of that in my playing. I love Grant Green's deceptively simplistic approach, the soulful, pure quality of his sound. When he hits a note, that's the note, and you feel it. But lately I've been way into the bluegrass cats, so I'm studying Tony Rice, Brian Sutton, David Greer, trying to get my right hand really strong in that flatpicking style."
While in college he co-founded the jazz/fusion band Gradual Lean. "Jazz has a strong identity in Charleston," he contends, "and because of the tourism, there's a lot of opportunity to play and get paid for it, so man it was great. I didn't go to Berklee College of Music, but I feel like the time I spent in Charleston was just as good because I came to New York having had a lot of real experience. I came to New York with the skills of knowing how to work gigs and create gigs and actually perform on the bandstand, not just in the classroom."
Ross had been in Charleston for about eight years when he bolted from that comfort zone to New York in 2002. Arriving in town, he contacted fellow South Carolinian Bob Belden, a Grammy-winning arranger and record producer living in the city. "He told me, 'You'll see after you've been here long enough, how just surviving in this city is an accomplishment.' And I was scared, you know. He sent me an e-mail a few weeks ago that said it's amazing that I came up here to do one thing and ended up finding something else that allowed me to be more myself. He said that a lot of people come to New York to play bebop and they find nothing, but if you come up to find music, it's everywhere. It's very true. If I came up here to be the same guy I was in Charleston, then man I'm gonna get beat down because there's not room for that. I've got to come here and let the city show me. I think that's what New York is all about, and it's humbling. You've got to drop a lot of ideas about what you were, so that you can make room for what you can become."
Ross started hanging out at Smalls and other jazz clubs, doing the required things to get "inside" the scene. He met accordion player Victor Prieto and they started a duo to hustle work. "That was the first time I'd ever heard Chorinho [aka Choro], this style of Brazilian ragtime. It was developed in Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s, and is very much compatible with the ragtime movement in New Orleans at the same time. Similar harmony, but rhythmically very different, because of Brazilian percussion elements like pandiero and surdos. It's great music. That was the entry point."
In 2005 Ross heard that percussionist Cyro Baptista was looking for a guitarist for his ensemble Beat The Donkey, and he made it known he wanted the gig. "Everytime that Cyro played a show or did a workshop I'd be there. I stalked him a little," the guitarist laughs. "He didn't know who I was, but I knew that I could bring something good to the group and also get a lot from it. We've toured the world, it's been awesome. And it's deeply affected my music. Cyro's energy is contagious, and his approach to music, the way he's been successful in music purely through the power of his presence and his personality, and being 100 percent himself — that's inspired me."
Baptista encouraged Ross to start singing again. "I had put that way on the back burner for the years that I was studying jazz. It was all about instrumental music. But then I ended up having opportunities to work with musicians in New York. When Cyro found out that I could sing it, became this huge asset in his eyes and to the band, and I was like, 'Wow, okay. I guess you're right.' It taught me to see everything differently."
In 2006 Ross was chosen to be a Jazz Ambassador by the US State Department, and has taken his music to Macedonia, Kosovo, Greece, Turkey and recently to Recife. "It's what they call 'soft diplomacy.' It's all about trying to win hearts and minds with music. Understand people more so that they'll better understand us and we can work together. I can't think of a better job for a musician." On the first of four tours to Recife, Brazil, he fell in love with the music. "Recife is such a concentration of Afro-Brazilian culture and music, and I just love the rhythms. The beats are incredible. That just planted the seed, and now I'll be learning about it for the rest of my life. I'm just scraping the surface of it. The music is just incredible. Each rhythmic part is very simple, but when they're all put together it makes this real infectious sound, and it's complex in its arrangement.
"In general, people in Brazil don't think Brazilian music is nearly as amazing as I do," he notes. "I'm fascinated, I'm foaming at the mouth over it. And then I realize, there's something in my backyard, like focused and concentrated. Literally, Bill Monroe started bluegrass music in Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina, right where I grew up. And I ignored it. I wouldn't say I hated it, but nothing I did in music ever reflected any sense of hillbilly, for sure.
"I want it to be a part of my musical identity, and I can choose to display it or not, but I'm going to know about it," he says. Ross is studying mountain-style guitar picking, and using it onstage with Matuto (Brazilian slang for "country boy"). He still plays his Gibson ES-175, but he has seriously changed his tone. "I was doing this real dark jazzy sound before, and lately the sound's become much more bright, reaching for more bite, and even a bit of what you could call twang. A brighter, more shimmery sound."
At the Matuto CD release party in Manhattan, the stage at Joe's Pub shook with fiddle, flute, accordion, guitar, bass and four percussionists. "It's folk music, and even though it's exotic folk music that's something new for people, it's like a very focused sound. It's a lot less harmony, and simpler 16-bar forms. It's dance music. It's not dense harmony with odd-paired bars and meters, and it's really refreshing in that way. It just sounds to me more pure and more direct."
Lime Wire Review
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Guitarist Clay Ross, best known for his work with percussion master Cyro Baptista’s New York world-m...Guitarist Clay Ross, best known for his work with percussion master Cyro Baptista’s New York world-music ensemble Beat the Donkey, has created a stunning cross-cultural statement with Matuto. The album is a direct result of Ross’s musical studies in Brazil’s northeastern region, where he soaked up traditional melodies and rhythms much different from those found elsewhere in Brazil. In fact, Ross found many parallels to the traditional music of the U.S. To reflect this notion, he has crafted Matuto as a merger of the two countries’ musical heritage, underlining the parallels and the contrasts simultaneously. The result is a wild ride that finds Brazilian beats and themes blended with folk, blues, and more for a sound that Ross refers to, only half-jokingly, as “Brazilian bluegrass.” Many of the tunes here are his own, but he also takes traditional blues and folk tunes like “John the Revelator” and “Banks of the Ohio” and radically reinvents them with a Brazilian flavor. It doesn’t hurt that Ross is aided in this endeavor by some of New York’s most gifted jazz musicians, including Baptista himself.
Clay Ross - John the Revelator
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The meld of Brazillian traditional beats and appalachian bluegrass which Brooklyn-based composer/gui...The meld of Brazillian traditional beats and appalachian bluegrass which Brooklyn-based composer/guitarist Clay Ross has adopted as his modality on his brand new album Matuto works a hell of a lot better than I expected. This version of an old gospel tune most recently covered by Eilen Jewell and the Sacred Shakers is earthy, ancient, aboriginal stuff, representative of the genius involved, well worth the purchase price.
The sounds of Brazil — by way of Appalachia
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?The sounds of Brazil — by way of Appalachia Matuto blends baião with roots music By Siddhartha Mi...?The sounds of Brazil — by way of Appalachia
Matuto blends baião with roots music
By Siddhartha Mitter, Globe Correspondent | September 5, 2010
The revelation, says guitarist Clay Ross, boiled down to a single song. It was a baião — a style of folk music from northeastern Brazil — by one of the masters of the genre that drove home to this South Carolina country boy-turned-New York City jazzman a connection that he could not deny. “It’s a song called ‘Voa Ilza,’ by Hermeto Pascoal,’’ Ross says, putting down the burrito he’s been eating at a
Brooklyn terrace to tap out the rhythm while he hums the melody. It’s a long, jaunty, sinewy number that, to an American ear, sounds a lot like something that just came down from the Appalachian foothills.
“I mean come on, man, that’s a fiddle tune!’’ Ross says. “It’s bluegrass! And the groove is sick.’’ He taps away at the table top. “It had everything I liked about good groove music. It had all these things I could identify with.’’ The epiphany set Ross on a path far different from the avant-garde jazz for which he’d come to New York in the first place, leaving behind the comfortable music scene of Charleston, S.C., for something edgy and abstract.
Instead, Ross formed Matuto, a band that mingles sounds of Brazil’s northeast — baião, forró, coco, frevo, and more — with American roots music like bluegrass, country, and the blues. Now a force in New York’s busy Brazilian scene, with an album on the Ropeadope label and many festival and workshop gigs in Recife, Brazil, under its belt, Matuto comes to Johnny D’s on Tuesday for a Brazil Independence Day celebration.
The shifting membership of Brazilian and American players has been known to reach nine musicians on stage, but on the road, Matuto works as a power trio, with Ross joined by Rob Curto on accordion and Zé Mauricio on percussion and electronics.
About half the songs have lyrics — originals and classics from both sets of traditions that Ross delivers mostly in English, and Curto in Portuguese. The layerings that ensue — for instance, Brazilian harmonies with English words against what feels like country music, but with subtle rhythmic cross-currents — feel like notes from an investigation in progress.
That’s because Ross’s epiphany didn’t come out of nowhere. It followed several years learning Latin styles from Cuban to tango for restaurant and other gigs, and a stint with Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista’s New York group Beat the Donkey. Most of all, it tapped into the sounds and feelings of Ross’s own childhood in the upcountry town of Anderson, S.C., and forced him to think again about his roots. “I never liked country music,’’ he says. “I was the guy, growing up in the South, if you asked me what kind of music I liked, I would say ‘Everything but country!’ And it was true. So it had to be that I would make a record with country influences. That was like the final frontier for me. It just had to be like that.’’ Like many Southerners, Ross says he had to leave his region in order to better appreciate it later. Unlike most, he found his way home by way of Brazil. In the northeast metropolis of Recife, he felt the echoes of Charleston everywhere. The two cities were the major New World ports of the 18th century, and hubs of the slave trade. Even the colonial architecture was similar. “These are the entry points,’’ Ross says. “The influence boils down to that, to the melting pot of European, indigenous, and African influences swirling up to create something new. I feel that what we’re doing is nothing more than an extension of that.’’
Matuto is a Brazilian term for a country person, though Ross explains that it’s not pejorative like “hillbilly.’’ It captures the sound’s roots in fields and plantations, with instruments and material from European farmers and migrants and African laborers. And it conveys the curiosity of a country kid — like Ross — negotiating the big city.
For accordionist Curto, Matuto is a space to reveal submerged historical connections, but most of all to enjoy producing something new.
“There are rhythmic elements in common, and a type of expressiveness,’’ he says by e-mail from Uruguay, while on tour with Lila Downs. “But I don’t think of combining the two things as an intellectual project, but instead a playful exploration of all the music we like.’’ Nor does the band mistake itself for Brazilian or see its mission as didactic. “Rob and I are Americans who found this music and fell in love with it,’’ says Ross. “It’s inspired us so much that we’ve incorporated it deeply. We can tell people about the influences, but hopefully we can create good music that people will want to dance to and enjoy. And then they’ll want to know.’’
Best of 2009 World Music
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Here on the local scene, Telecaster-wielding songwriter Clay Ross is leading the guitar-meets-world ...Here on the local scene, Telecaster-wielding songwriter Clay Ross is leading the guitar-meets-world revolution. Clay, who has plenty of experience playing Brazilian music playing with Cyro Baptista's dynamic band Beat the Donkey, has set off to create his own musical concoction of sounds from Brazil and, intriguingly, the southeastern United States. He's ably assisted by some of the leading lights of the city's lively northeast-Brazil musical appreciation society: drummer Scott Kettner of Nation Beat and accordionist Rob Curto of Forro For All, plus a cameo by Baptista. Clay is playing on a certain psychic resonance that exists between the rural sounds of the Brazilian northeast and the American southeast, which though perhaps less directly connected musically, does have a similarity to the connection Justin Adams draws between African roots and the blues. And of course Brazilian music is deeply rooted in African influences, and South America and Africa influence New Orleans (and indeed there is a zydeco tinged track on the cd), so really, it's not so far away after all. I would say that the genre-blending is a bit more overt, less subtle than on the cds discussed above - you do get the sense of this as being something of a conceptual work in progress. But there are some great moments, including the infectious opening track Recife, a tribute to the musical hotbed of northeast Brazil, and (though not really a guitar track) a raw and rocking berimbau-driven take on Blind Willie Johnson’s spiritual classic John the Revelator.
-The Virginia Pilot-
The title for composer, singer and guitarist Clay Ross’ latest is Brazilian slang for “country bumpkin.”
Backed by a flute-fiddle-accordion-bass-percussion combo, the South Carolina native creates an unusual blend of Appalachian bluegrass, Brazilian folk/carnival music and Delta blues with a little pure pop. The album kicks into high gear with “Recife,” a frenetic Brazilian hoedown, followed by the tongue-in-cheek musings of the mundane in “What a Day.”
Throughout the recording, Ross and his acoustic mates mash up styles, all energized by Brazilian percussive instruments and bluegrass picking. There’s the rustic, spooky blues of“John the Revelator,” the pastoral lyricism of “Feel, Like a Song” and the Brit-pop feel of “Maria’s Lullaby.”
With restrained virtuosic skill and a joyful anything-goes attitude, Ross and colleagues demonstrate that being a country bumpkin can result in a unique musical vision.
– Eric Feber, The Pilot
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Biography In 2002, Clay Ross embarked on a musical odyssey that brought him closer to home. ...Biography
In 2002, Clay Ross embarked on a musical odyssey that brought him closer to home. The South Carolina native moved to New York to pursue a jazz career and several years later found himself in Recife, Brazil studying the region's folkloric music. Along the way he rediscovered the straightforward songs of his native South.
The guitarist and singer titled his Ropeadope Records debut Matuto, after a Brazilian slang reference to a man from the backcountry. Described as “Weird and Wonderful… Unorthodox and Delightful” by Jazz Times Magazine, the set allows Ross to carve a niche in a musical tradition created on another continent. He performs North American folk songs like "Home Sweet Home" and Blind Willie Johnson's "John the Revelator" over South American rhythms Maracatu, Forró, and Coco typical of the northeastern region of Brazil.
In recording the album, Ross called upon the talents of NYC’s most sought-after musicians, including master accordionist Rob Curto. Born in New York, Curto is widely regarded as forró’s foremost ambassador in the States. An early devotee of North American swing music, bebop piano, funk, rock, and blues, he has combined these influences with his mastery of their Brazilian counterparts forró, chorinho, samba, maracatu, and frevo to produce stunning new results. He spent years living and playing in Brazil, completely absorbing and interpreting the country's musical traditions. Curto was a member of the original scene that established forró, the dance music of northeastern Brazil, as an official dance craze in downtown New York.
Ross and Curto began exploring a shared musical vision and set about combining their individual repertoires into an extensive library of Pan-American influences. Focusing their talents, resources, and experience Ross and Curto set out to establish Matuto as a band.
In February of 2009 they received a prestigious Fulbright Grant and completed a six-week residency in Recife, Brazil. There, with drummer Richie Barshay (Herbie Hancock Quartet) and bassist Edward Perez, the band thrilled audiences at the Garanhuns Jazz Festival and the massive Rec Beat Festival, finding equal comfort along side jazz and blues legends, folk music traditionalists, and indie rock experimentalists. They also lead educational workshops in underserved communities and performed public concerts in theaters and auditoriums across the city. Later that year they headlined the American Folk Festival in Bangor, ME and the Montmagny World Accordion Festival in Canada.
Employing renowned musicians across NYC’s diverse jazz, roots, and world music scenes, Matuto features violin, guitar, accordion, bass, drums, and various Brazilian percussion instruments: the alfaia (a large, wooden, rope-tuned bass drum), the pandeiro (a Brazilian tambourine), the berimbau (a single-string on a bow struck with a small stick), and the agogô (a pair of small, pitched metal bells.)
Currently working on a new album, Ross and Curto have produced a compilation disc of their respective best. This compilation reflects the inspiring live show that the band has developed in the last year. Appalachian fiddle tunes bounce with a Northeastern Brazilian lilt while the one string Berimbau resonates with a strangely effective blues riff. Curto spins long chromatic melodies over intricate arrangements and infectiously funky folkloric rhythms. Like a true southern preacher, Ross delivers colorfully satirical lyrics reminiscent of David Byrne, Tom Ze, and Caetano Veloso.
With an honest love for roots music, genuine Brazilian styles, and improvisational experimentation, Matuto creates a unique and inspired sound from the heart of New York City's diverse musical culture.
2 - 50 Min Sets
Toca Do Sino
Drag Me Down
The Devil's Hand
Dream of Life
What A Day
Horse Eat Corn
Maracatu Dos Anjos
The Way I Love You
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