Nation Beat and Alma Tropicalia at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club

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The music to celebrate Brazilian Independence Day at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club Saturday night drove most of the attendees onto the dance floor. Both Alma Tropicalia and Nation Beat amped up the audience with their driving beats. Integral to the success of the party were the dance instruction team Dee Hale and Amchad Edwards.

Alma Tropicalia. Photo courtesy of Alma Tropicalia's facebook page.
Alma Tropicalia. Photo courtesy of Alma Tropicalia’s facebook page.

In their all-too-short set, Alma Tropicalia, led by singer Elin, showed great versatility. A Brazilian beat ran throughout; over this, Elin was able to convey a range of emotions in both Portugese and English. It is hard to single out one number as my favorite as I loved most of the set. One of my favorites was the soulful “Se Manda,” with guitarist Greg Loman, bassist TJ Turqman, drummer Ben Takis, and percussionist Hetor Barez holding down a pulsing beat with Gena Photiadis’ keyboards soaring above. Lee and Edwards’ Forro performance during this number was so steamy it raised the humidity inside to nearly match that of the downpour outside. I also loved “What Makes You,” co-written and scored by Elin. It paints a picture of what one could say to a suffering friend. Yet another great performance, “Last Road Out,” written by drummer Ben Takis was 60’s inspired and let the dancers loose with no partner required.

Nation Beat, fronted by the indomitable Fabiana Masili, was all about percussion, especially the alfaia, a large bass-like drum held by a strap over the shoulder.  Masili played the alfaia throughout the evening, sometimes joined by percussionist Fernando Seci.  I really enjoyed some of Nation Beat’s new songs, especially “Te Querer” and “Baque Retroactivo.”  Old favorites included “Golden Crown,” set to a carnival beat, “Casa Diamante,” and “Puxa o Boi”.  One of Nation Beat’s songs that is always high on my playlist is “Growing Stone,” which pays homage to the back-breaking labor of farmers in the rocky countryside.

Nation Beat is well known for their mashup of Brazilian and the music of New Orleans.  That clear connection was not present in this performance. Usually the Nation Beat lineup includes a reedy-sounding fiddle known as the Brazilian rabeca.

Guitarist Mark Marshall and bassist Chris Venditti both showed great mastery of their instruments. Their breakdowns and solos were unusual and complex. Perhaps because I don’t understand a word of Portuguese, and thus the lyrics, their dominance of several sections in different songs was unknown to me.

Nation Neat. Photo courtesy of their website. Photo by   Limor Hakim.
Nation Neat.  Photo by Limor Hakim.

Two very special parts of the set deserve note  One is the pandiero-based solo by drummer and band founder Scott Kettner. Starting with the pandiero, a tamborine-like instrument, Kettner, recorded loops on several percussive instruments and used them to add depth and zest to his drum kit. This feat showed his amazing musicality and makes one understand why he was once a Latin Jazz Ambassador. The ending number incorporated call and response, a percussion circle where individual dancers could jump in and show their best moves.

Running Time:  Two hours 45 minutes, with one intermission.

Alma Tropicalia and Nation Beat performed on September 6, 2014 at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club – 7719 Wisconsin Avenue, in Bethesda MD.  The performance schedule of  Alma Tropicalia can be found on their home page.  The Nation Beat’s fall performances can be found using this link. Future events at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz and Supper Club can be found on their website.