Bloco Maximo’s captivating yet danceable show in the Campus Center

Sam Lewin

Last Friday, the Chicago-based samba group Bloco Maximo performed in Lawrence Conservatory of Music’s room 156. The group was supposed to perform outside of the Warch Campus Center, but the cold weather and the prospect of breaking drumheads forced the concert indoors. Nevertheless, Bloco Maximo played an hour-long set of samba that was fun, funky and impressive.

Bloco Maximo is a samba bacteria — a samba group solely consisting of percussionists — and many of the group’s 12 members are Lawrence alums who played in Sambistas, Lawrence’s samba ensemble.

Reed Flygt ’07 a founded Bloco Maximo last spring. Flygt relied on Lawrence alums when forming the group because he “wanted people who could actually play.”

Lawrence provides its percussionists with a wealth of samba knowledge, and playing with friends from Lawrence meant that Flygt didn’t have to start from scratch. Flygt credits Lawrence with exposing him to different kinds of samba, and Bloco Maximo’s name is a tribute to Lawrence’s percussion professor Dane Maxim Richeson.

The group played some of its first gigs with the band Fatbook — another product of Lawrence University, whose members also play in Bloco Maximo. The group then began to rehearse regularly and play occasional gigs at carnivals, churches and schools. It now frequently performs in venues around Chicago.

Bloco Maximo’s busy performance and rehearsal schedule was evident last Friday night. The group had a tight and grooving sound and embraced samba’s unique rhythmic swing.

They started with “Samba Rio,” a more traditional kind of samba originating from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Although the group has only rehearsed “Rio” for a month, the grooves still sounded tight. They also ran through an impressive number of breaks, where the ensemble would briefly depart from the original groove.

About ten minutes into the performance, Bloco Maximo’s fog machine set off the fire alarm, forcing the performers, audience, and everyone else in the conservatory to exit the building. This wasn’t all bad though: the fire alarm initially sounded like a samba whistle, and the group kept playing for about five minutes while the alarm was going off. And the evacuation gave students, fans and alums an opportunity to chat.

After the fire department gave the go ahead, Bloco Maximo returned to the stage to play samba-reggae — a type of samba that incorporates backbeats and reggae grooves. And, since it would be impossible for me to avoid this pun, they were on fire.

The group was really locked, which is no small feat for twelve drummers playing intricate and interconnected parts. There were few solos during the set, but that wasn’t too surprising: Bloco Maximo is a collective dedicated to groove and not a solo vehicle for Flygt and the group’s more experienced members. Indeed, when Flygt led the group, he hardly played at all.

While Bloco Maximo played some recognizable re-orchestrations of classic Lawrence Sambistas material, they also added break extensions and a few references to other genres. They briefly segued into the “Smooth Criminal” groove and later called a break featuring the heavily syncopated theme on the Bad Plus’s “Physical Cities.”

The concert attracted a fairly sizable audience, which, for the most part, could not resist dancing throughout the entire performance. However, it was pretty easy to identify the members of the percussion studio — they were too busy ogling and painstakingly listening to the bateria to dance.

And that was part of the beauty of the Bloco Maximo concert: tThe music was captivating from a purely percussive standpoint, but it was also incredibly danceable.