(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

CD review - Ritmo Machine, Welcome to the Ritmo Machine (2011)

Hip hop/electronica fusion with a Latin flair

Ritmo Machine is a victory for globalization and we're all winners. Latin Bitman and Eric Bobo each bring a fairly different perspective to the group, which offers a richer sound than either have on their own. Chilean DJ Latin Bitmap ponies up his great ear for mixing backing tracks that are steeped in both electronic and Latin influences. Bobo has a classic hip hop sensibility rooted in his work with Cyprus Hill and the Beastie Boys. Some of their common ground may well come from the influence of Bobo's father, afro-Cuban percussionist Willie Bobo. But it's clear that each one hears a space for their own voice in the collaboration.

Welcome to the Ritmo Machine offers a cool mix of old school Latin funk, heavy beats, modern electronica, and tasteful sample layering. Most of the tracks sound like they start with Latin Bitman's groove inspiration. Then, the two musicians start adding color - an electronic scratch rhythm here, a cuica beat there. With this well constructed foundation, the tracks are complete enough to stand on their own. But they spice things up on some of the songs by featuring guest rappers adding their own flavor.

Maestro shows how well Ritmo Machine assembles their songs. It's a densely layered instrumental. It's got a modern, glitchy vibe, but at its heart it's a mix of Latin jazz and soul. The Latin beat sets up an uptempo drive that contrasts with a moody, soulful bassline. A host of details round it out, from electronic scratches to a chopped up afro-beat vocal sample. Early in the song, a funky guitar partners with the bass, but later, the track slides fully into jazz territory with a meandering vibes solo. While there are some vocal parts, the song works as a pure instrumental jam.

When the guest rappers sit in, they each add their own character, from Chali 2na on Witness This Heat to Sen-Dog (Cyprus Hill) on Senny Sosa. This latter track fades in with a loop that builds up tension to kick start a strong old school rap. The heavy throbbing beat with Latin percussion accents creates a deep pocket for Sen-Dog's strong Spanish delivery. The flow is tight with group punches on the closing words of the lines.

Latino hip hop is easy to find, but Ritmo Machine's stronger emphasis on the music creates a unique balance. Similarly, there's plenty of Latin influenced dance and electronica, but Ritmo Machine's street edge is more grounded.

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