When you listen to the duo of Sam Reider and Jorge Glem toss melodies and rhythms back and forth song after song, the other thing you can hear is the fun that sparks up between them.
The pairing of a Venezuelan cuatro and an accordion is unusual, but the duo make the match seem natural even as they turn their joint journey into a worldwide exploration. Glem’s hyperkinetic strumming on the cuatro blasts many of the songs into rhythmic bliss, while Reider seems to instinctively know how to play in and around the beats, adding steam to the rhythmic engine generated by Glem and filling in the spaces in between with lovely curly-cueing melodies.
A quintessential New York story, the two musicians met at a party in Manhattan and though neither spoke the other’s language, they began commuting between Brooklyn and the Bronx to weave together a set of tunes.
Glem is from the town of Cumaná in eastern Venezuela and has won a Grammy and Latin Grammy for his work on the long-necked Venezuelan cuatro, while accordionist and composer Reider has gained notice with the Americana band Human Hands.
As good as the duo’s playing is on the debut album, Brooklyn Cumaná, this is not exactly a duo record – they’re helped by talented group of additional players who beautifully populate the tableaux of each varied song. What’s common to all the songs is an exuberant sense of play, albeit one expressed with elegant musical sophistication.
The album opens with their take on folk musician John Hartford’s Irish-flavored instrumental “Homer the Roamer,” a perfect introduction to the bright, lively journey. Throughout, Glem’s powerfully percussive playing of the cuatro is well matched to Reider’s speedy and nimble runs across the accordion’s keyboard.
The swinging Brazilian choro “Del Boca Vista,” has the global ensemble samba-partying to a plush blanket of hand-played percussion from Fernando Saci. The song starts the fast groove with a few lovely solo flights—including violin, mandolin and bass—each musician taking a joyous turn up front articulating the melody with speed, emotion, and not a little bit of both razzle and dazzle.
“Coroticos” is a 5/8 Venezuelan merengue (in 5/8 time) that has a powerful but soft swing as Reider’s accordion and Glem’s quatro exchange solos as they fly across the rhythms, particularly locked in place by acoustic bassist Bam Bam Rodriguez.
“Mata Palo y Fuga” a speedy waltz-time joropo with Glem taking a tongue-tripping turn at the rapid-fire lyrics. “Huckleberry’s Dream” find the duo in a different mode, taking a break from the whirlwind tunes for a lovely little lullabye, with Glem picking at his cuatro, while Reider undergirds the delicate melody with organ-like sustained chords.
Things flip back to the fast lane with the hot swing of “Skeleton Rag.” The duo race along and then pass the baton to Cuba-born Paquito D’Rivera, giving him a chance to fly away on clarinet—spinning impossibly fast beautiful klezmer-tinted melodies along the way. The core duo step up for this album highlight: Glem strums out a “holy cow” solo, then Reider likewise uses his reedy accordion to breathe power into the swinging rhythms. The tune ends with D’Rivera effortlessly soaring above them all, then the group stops on a dime; Glem resets the rhythm for a last round of solos and the group plays the zigzagging ragtime-y primary melody as one.
The lovely “Ciaconne Caribe” finds its way back to Baroque music and the Spanish colonial period in Latin America and is the only true duet on the album. On this tune, Glem steps away from being a human rhythm machine and trades lilting solos with Reider’s accordion.
“Moonlight Merengue” is a slow 5/8-time tune with Reider’s only appearance on piano. The stately, even ethereal, feel seems like a soundtrack to a still night and brings the joyous album to a sweet final coda.
Glem and Reider each have other gigs in their varied careers and they have not toured extensively since the release of the album. Here’s hoping they find the time and circumstances to continue to perform together and share the spark and joy of the collaboration with others.
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