Yesterday evening at Littlefield was literally a trip around the world, starting in the thunderous depths of Carnaval in Brazil and then shifting to New Orleans, with a brief stopover in the Scottish highlands. All-female Brazilian drum troupe BatalaNYC celebrated their second birthday with a deliriously pulsing, torrential set of eclectic tropical rhythms. The group is one of several worldwide Batala troupes, numbering over one thousand drummers. This contingent has about seventy members. Roughly two dozen of them gathered onstage to back an energetic, fiery Cape Verdean soul singer on a couple of numbers, then the rest took over the floor in front of the stage for the remainder of the set. Punctuating their rumbling, tumbling attack, they punctuated the rhythms with agilely choreographed dance moves and joyous shouts as the crowd joined in the sway, lost in the music.
All the global Batalas play a common repertoire. As explosively kinetic as this music is, it also has a soothing aspect: the low rumble resounds literally to the deepest part of your DNA, i.e. your bones. Being bodyslammed never felt so good. Some of their rhythms had a snazzy shuffle echoed later on by the New Orleans music; others worked simple, catchy polyrhythms; the group also did a wry hip-hop number and another with a lickety-split merengue beat. Eleven-piece bagpipe-and-drum marching band the Kings County Pipes and Drums joined them for a couple of boisterously keening numbers: much as mashing up Brazilian and Scottish music might seem ridiculous, it made for a fantastic pairing, with the same kind of fire as frevo, Brazil’s ecstatic brass music. Obviously, music like this is meant to be played outdoors, or in a much larger space, such as when BatalaNYC opened for the Rolling Stones at their most recent Brooklyn show. The comparatively small confines of Littlefield, with its pristine sonics, made the difference between being in the band and outside it practically redundant.
And what’s coolest about BatalaNYC is that you can be in the band! They’re actively recruiting, and would like to have over a hundred members. A community organization, they’re open to women of all ages, currently ranging from about college age to seniors – one of the group’s most obviously talented snare players is their most senior member. And it’s hard to imagine a more ethnically diverse, accurate representation of New York than this crew. They rehearse weekly; you get a drum and a colorful, red-sashed outfit to wear at shows, absolutely free, and the music is taught by ear. It’s amazing how tight this group is, considering that most of the members are not professional musicians. Music directors Stacy Kovacs and Laura Torell, methodically and energically leading the performance from the front of the crowd, have pulled this mighty beast together.
Afterward, the five-piece Lucky Chops Brass Band treated the crowd to a little more than a half an hour of similarly tight, inspired New Orleans standards. They got a lively call-and-response with the audience going via a stretched-out take of This Little Light of Mine, later running through a long, upbeat take of Poor Liza punctuated by solos from the trumpeter and baritone saxophonist, both adding a wild postbop edge. Their trombonist deviously quoted Mozart and then jammed out the theme as their tenor saxophonist played smoky, sultry lines over a fluid tuba groove with funky, shuffling drums.