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WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

Forro gets the party started

January 13, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The staid performance hall at the Skirball Cultural Center isn't exactly prime territory for a dance party. But that's what happened Thursday night during the performance of Rob Curto's Forro for All ensemble.

The dancing didn't kick into high gear until the program was half over, triggered by violinist-singer Eliano Braz's foray into the audience. Spotting a few eager enthusiasts doing steps at the rear of the auditorium, he dashed back and urged them to the front. That was enough to open the floodgates for others. The music picked up speed, and the high-spirited, participatory dancing continued until the end of the evening.

It gave a fascinating display of the scintillating rhythmic power of forro -- an expressive musical genre from northeastern Brazil that is inseparable from dancing and communal partying.

The Forro for All ensemble expanded on the form's traditional instrumentation of accordion, triangle and zabumba (a deep-toned drum worn with a strap and played at an angle) with Braz's classically driven violin, the stirring percussion of Scott Kettner and Rogerio Boccato and the strikingly contemporary electric bass of Mike Lavalle.

Accordionist Curto, a New Yorker who has spent years studying and working in Brazil, is a master with the instrument at the core of forro, a genre that combines 18th century European dance forms, Afro-Brazilian rhythms such as the baiao and xote, and the uniquely Brazilian approach to harmony.

The selections ranged from several marvelously atmospheric numbers by the great forro accordionist and composer Luiz Gonzaga to Curto's originals, which combine traditional authenticity with persuasive dashes of jazz. While the percussion rhythms were undeniably irresistible, it was the imaginative improvising that took the music well beyond the level of dance accompaniment.

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