With a resume that includes playing backup for the award-winning “Fela!” Broadway musical, one would understand if Martin Perna had grown complacent. For most musicians, setting foot on that hallowed New York City stage would represent the ultimate achievement; a career-defining pinnacle that solidifies greatness and attains immortality. And let’s not forget the unbearable dedication it takes to craft a full-length album — rigorous songwriting, hours of production and important compromises between band members. That aside, his band — Ocote Soul Sounds — feels fresher than ever on Taurus, blurring the lines between rhythmic funk and Afrobeat with effortless cohesion, creating an effervescent opus that sizzles, even if it doesn’t break new ground.
In an interview before they released Coconut Rock, Perna shed light on an apparent identity crisis within the group. “Every musician who gets to a certain point in his/her journey begins to confront questions of identity, roots and core values,” he told Soundcheck magazine. “I think that is where we are right now with the music. It is a challenge to try to articulate where we are at, where we are from, and [where] we want to go in our own words.” As a result, Coconut Rock was part Fela Kuti and part Sergio Mendes, steeped in dusty Caribbean rhythms and dotted with Santana’s psychedelic distortion.
But while the 2009 recording was reflective and grounded, Taurus is brisk and energetic with tinges of hip-hop and disco. There are certain traces of contemplation — the weighty “Speak Truth to Power” and “Tumba del Pasayo” are prime examples — but the overall project is lighter in scope and easier to digest. All told, Taurus is more efficient than its predecessor and fits well within the group’s discography. This is international music with regional affinities. The messages live within the tap of the drums, the hum of the bass and the blaring horns. Fela would be proud.
-Marcus J. Moore