TRAVERSE CITY — There are many paths to exploring grass roots music.
Matuto, a New York-based band that plays tonight at Milliken Auditorium searches with guitar, fiddle, accordion, Brazilian percussion drums, plus a unique mix of rhythm that offers everything from Louisiana swamp music and Appalachian bluegrass to Dixieland beats jazz and fórro — a northeastern Brazilian music that includes many dance styles and musical beats.
“We’re part of a new generation of musicians in different countries and contexts who are mixing lots of things together,” said accordionist Rob Curto. “It’s so easy today to have contact with any kind of music in the world. YouTube and video have opened up a lot of possibilities. We try to present a show that’s really fun, uplifting and makes people feel good.”
Curto is considered one of forró’s foremost emissaries in the United States. He spent years living and playing in Brazil, absorbing and interpreting the country’s musical traditions.
“Matuto” is Brazilian slang for “country bumpkin.” The band was founded several years ago by bluegrass and jazz guitarist Clay Ross, who grew up in South Carolina, and moved to New York in 2002 as a 23-year-old jazz musician. It was in that stewpot of music influences that he met Curto and Brazilian musicians and began to immerse himself in Latin music.
Sometimes the path that takes you far away eventually can also lead you closer to home. That’s what happened to Ross.
In 2009 he and Curto won a Fulbright grant for a six-week residency in Recife, a port city along the northeastern tip of Brazil, the point closest to Africa. One day, he heard something that reminded him of a bluegrass fiddle tune. Bluegrass was something he’d rejected early in his music career as he was growing up in the South .