On August 7th 2007, I visited Sweet Sounds Downtown as I had on all other Tuesdays. Having seen, heard, and spoken with Yuri Turchyn (violinist) who performed 2 weeks earlier with a group called Arturo, I was looking forward to hearing Grupo Yuri. They did not disappoint. They performed near the train station parking lot on South Street. A sextet consisting of Yuri Turchyn on violin, Al Selert on drums and percussion, Stacy Grant on percussion, Jim Grant on bass, Ernie Fortunato on guitar, and Beny Ramos on congas and bongos, this group was easily the best I’d seen so far at the Westfield jazz festival. Their brand of jazz has a Caribbean flavor, with elements of salsa, funk and world beat.
First and foremost was group leader/front man Yuri Turchyn, master violinist and showman, working the audience, talking to the people, and playing his instrument to the max, and making it all look too easy. To his right was Stacy Grant with a small table full of percussion instruments he used to add colors to the music and rhythms. He used triangles, caxixi, tambourines, bells, afuche and even a small set of steel drums among many other percussive things too numerous to mention. Behind him was master drummer/percussionist Al Selert who played with tremendous drive and energy, fully supporting the music, and at the same time, adding extremely creative fills and colors of his own. With his already full kit he also used a cowbell set to his right and small hanging cymbals in front of him, with a set of timbales to his left. He used all of this to great advantage, helping the others to play at the top of their game. To his left was bassist Jim Grant who played a 7-string electric bass, something I’d never seen or even heard of before. His tremendous range and skill as a musician seemed to require such an instrument. He performed with amazing speed and power as did Ernie Fortunato, the guitarist. Ernie used a seemingly endless variety of beautiful chords and riffs, all played with smooth precision. Conga player Beny Ramos played seated behind 3 congas and a set of bongos, adding even more to the rhythm and the music, playing the bongos often while playing congas. In addition to rhythms such as tumbao, calypso and bolero, he often played a very nice one-handed finger roll on bongos to add to his dynamics.
Dynamics were a major part of this group’s expertise; one minute the music would be cooking and then brought down to a haunting whisper of one or more players, then the rest would come in and build the music. Each song-original-would take the listener on a journey full of surprises, super slick breaks, dramatic solos and endings, and precision teamwork all led by the great Yuri Turchyn, who quickly made friends with all in attendance, often walking and talking among the listeners. His electric violin was wireless, and at least once he walked over to people in their cars waiting at the train station traffic light and entertained them with his masterful playing and outgoing personality.
Grupo Yuri is a band definitely worth checking out.