An attention-worthy drummer navigates the globe with Toto in tow. Robin DiMaggio is a superior percussionist with a deep appreciation for the world’s musical styles, a vision admirably realized here on Blue Planet. Looking at the varicultured song titles, one might expect this project to be some cloying, pretentious attempt at New Age World Music. Fortunately, DiMaggio and his friends generally execute the concept well enough that it rarely approaches such a state of predictability.
The personnel changes wildly from track to track, DiMaggio being the only constant. Several members of the rock supergroup Toto are on hand for various tracks: Steve Lukather, David Paich, the brothers Porcaro. Their presence adds a comforting appeal to the disc but does not drag it down into stale 80s poppishness. Toto’s “Africa” is wildly reinvented here. The verses are replaced by a mellow rap from Printz Board, while singer Tal B. ascends on the choruses. Paich’s buoyant keyboards and Mike Porcaro’s flowing bass anchor the tune into familiar territory. A masterwork.
Camerounian bassist Armand Sabal-Lecco guests on the tune titled after his homeland, a lively track that seethes with West African rhythms, pop-rock infusions, Milesian trumpet noodlings and rapid about-faces of groove. “Voodoo” is an intriguing pastiche of Nawlins rhythms, airy piano tinkling and an off-kilter bass line. Sam Garcia’s accordion is a dose of instant cheer on “Rue du Tribourg”, a successful update of Parisian café music. And so it goes, from influence to ethnic influence, as DiMaggio surveys the world’s rich musical heritage under his own unique microscope.
One moderate low point of the disc is “Child of Bedouin”, which tries a little too hard to be exotic. Tal B’s multi-tracked, over-reverbed vocals wear thin after a bit, and bassist Andre Berry is given hardly a thing to do except poot out subsonic note-pairs. The sparse “Poema do Brasil”, however, is executed much better: just hand drums, poet, chanted vocal and occasional woodwind flits. The coldly mechanical disco thump of Shayna Ryan’s “It Happened To Me” is disturbingly out of place against the other selections, and the short percussion track that closes the disc comes off as mere filler, a sketch of an unfinished idea. By and large, however, Blue Planet is a profoundly entertaining disc that bears close listening in private times.
Track Listing: Checkered Past; Child of Bedouin; Africa; La Nuit d'Oran; Poema do Brasil; Rue du Tribourg; Baladi; Voodoo at the Bayou; Cameroon; Walk; Song For Christian; Riviere du Loup; It Happened To Me; Mallorca; Newfoundland.
Personnel: (Collective:) Robin DiMaggio, drums, percussion, keyboards, loops, piano; Steve Porcaro, David Paich, Sebastian Morton, keyboards; Mike Porcaro, Andre Berry, Stuart Hamm, bass; Steve Lukather, Steve Vai, guitars; Poncho Tomaselli, guitars, bass; Armand Sabal-Lecco, guitars, bass, vocals; L. Shankar, violin, double violin, vocals; Tal B., Ginger, Rich Stites, Shane August, Violetta, vocals; Shayna Ryan, vocals, keyboards; Printz Board, poetic rap, trumpet; Wagner Fulco, poetry; Sam Garcia, accordion; Lili Haydn, violin; Munyungo Jackson, talking drum.