Matuto to bring unique blend of Brazilian beats, Americana twang to Amp

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Matuto’s origin story opens like a joke.

An accordion player from New York City and a jazz guitarist from South Carolina walk into a recording studio and leave with the idea for a band. That band would drum out Brazilian beats like forró, chorinho and samba, pluck twangy Appalachian strings, and muddle them together like lime and sugar in a caipirinha.

Named after a Brazilian slang word meaning “country bumpkin,” Matuto plans to intoxicate listeners with its vibrant and refreshing musical cocktail at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

“We’re a party band,” said Rob Curto, the band’s accordionist, citing the band’s high-energy performances and involvement in New York City’s forró dance craze.

By the time they began collaborating, Curto had spent five years living and playing music in Brazil, and guitarist Clay Ross had visited a number of times to perform. In February 2009, they received a Fulbright grant and completed a six-week residency in Recife, Brazil, where they performed at the Garanhuns Jazz Festival and the Rec Beat Festival.

Today, Curto and Ross, who both sing in English and Portuguese, play with a rotating crew of instrumentalists that, on this tour, includes percussionist Zé Maurício, bassist Kevin Hamilton and drummer Aynsley Powell. Based in New York City, Matuto has toured internationally and released two albums, Matuto and The Devil and the Diamond.

Despite having only one Brazilian member in Maurício, Matuto has made itself at home in Brazil, playing music from the northeast of Brazil alongside Brazilian bands.

“Brazilian culture has been a really important part of my life,” Curto said, recalling the electrifying experience of singing in Portuguese to Brazilian audiences, accompanied by Brazilian instruments like the zabumba and cavaquinho.

“We had people singing along in the front row to songs that aren’t even really that famous or popular in Brazil,” he said. “They were totally on our side and supporting us.”

Ross, who originally moved to New York City to be a jazz guitarist, was introduced to Brazilian music by percussionist Cyro Baptista, and found a rural-sounding twang in some of the northeastern region’s music that reminded him of the Appalachian fiddle, guitar and banjo music that he had grown up hearing.

Curto found his way to Brazilian music in his 20s via the accordion, which his Italian grandmother had encouraged his father to play while growing up in the 1940s. His father refused, wanting to play jazz and assimilate with mainstream American culture.

“These things kind of skip a generation,” Curto said. “Brazilian culture really brings all of that together. It has roots in Mediterranean and Latin culture coming from Portugal, but it’s also the Americas, and it has that mixture of African, indigenous and European roots together.”

Having felt out of place in American culture, Curto felt at home as soon as he found Brazil. And he, with Matuto, now strive to create meaningful connections between the two cultures.

“Our approach to the Brazilian music is to really not be dilettantes about it, but be people who are really trying to get inside it and learn as much as possible so we can also teach about it to people,” he said. “And be, to some degree, representing that culture in a way that’s positive and that opens doors for Brazilian musicians as well.”

Recalling a trip with Brazilian fiddler Claudio Rabeca to the U.S. to teach Brazilian instrumentation, Curto said that the band relishes the role of cultural “liaison” between Brazil and the U.S.

“We’ve been invited to play at really nice events in Brazil, in slots that are really reserved for people who are trying to do something that’s connected to the culture there, connected to the people,” Curto said. “It’s been good and an honor to be accepted in that way.”