With its second release, the fine Zazu, Houston's Moodafaruka -- formed in 1999 by guitarist Rom Ryan and percussionist Terrence Karn -- elevates the genre from its pop-culture trappings and expands it beyond its perceived limitations. The band's made-up name loosely translates as "the mood of the dance," and the record certainly reflects a number of moods in songs that were almost all penned by Ryan.
The music does lend itself to a certain cinematic projection, though westerns come to mind last. Each track tends to evoke an emotion or physical setting, like a travel video of the mind. "Spanish Caravan" opens the record, unfolding slowly as it takes the listener through a gentle countryside dappled with sunlight. "Drink with Umbrella" and "Luna Amor" favor a more dramatic, dancing atmosphere (a bullfight? a fiesta?) with Mary Ann Willis's scale-romping gypsy violin adding much to both. "Fiesta del Viento" and "Ella de la Luz," two of the best tracks, maintain festive feelings that build with each chorus. And finally, on the title track, Arlandus Chimney's solid bass intro breaks out into a touch of light all-American funk.
Overall, the gentle percussion and light bass work simply lets the real centerpiece, Ryan's versatile and flexible guitar-playing, shine. The entire record is naturally built around him. And now for a quibble: While technically efficient and full of emotion, there is sometimes a sense of uniformity to the rhythms, though that's often a characteristic of this genre. The slight nudges eastward -- from Iberia toward the Greek isles and beyond -- on some numbers are intriguing, and more of this would have been good for the record.
Zazu can be best appreciated as the background sound track to a relaxing afternoon or a paella-and-rioja dinner party. And if the disc inspires you to the latter, remember to invite the music critic who exposed you to it in the first place.