The magic is in the tangents, Brian Cross believes. In words and in music, he's learned the unexpected segue is where you find the real gift. His latest souvenir of the journey is a film -- "Brasilintime: Batucada com Discos," a visual representation of an extended musical conversation following the serpentine travels of rhythm.
Cross' own life path has been a series of key digressions. A photographer born in Ireland, Cross in a little more than a decade evolved into an author ("It's Not About a Salary: Rap, Race and Resistance in Los Angeles"), a DJ and a filmmaker who navigates these many worlds and is now known as B+.
"Brasilintime" examines the relationship between Brazilian and American music across generations and genres -- the swing of bossa nova, the importance of the rim shot. The film, which has its L.A. premiere Tuesday at the Egyptian Theatre (followed Thursday by a live event at the Mayan), is less a documentary than a meditation that attempts to trace the trajectory of beats and show why they captivate over time and across continents. "There is a definite 'spread the love' aspect to this project," B+ says. "But really, there is somehow a crazy bridge in the air. It's just up to us to use it."
"Brasilintime" is itself a segue, something that couldn't have been mapped out, but a logical extrapolation from his first documentary in 2000. "Keepintime: Talking Drums and Whispering Vinyl" -- which toured the world and was picked up by the Sundance Channel -- wasn't supposed to be a film at all. It started as a photo shoot for a project B+ was working on that brought together some of L.A.'s most revered session drummers to talk about classic breaks: popping, slinky drum solos that had become the gold standard among a generation of DJs who had been digging, sampling and bending them into something new.
"For me they were perfect photo subjects; just put those guys in front of the camera and have them talk about their favorite breaks," B+ says.
The hitch: The drummers convened -- Earl Palmer, Paul Humphrey and James Gadson -- who between them had kept time for everyone from Charlie Parker to Marvin Gaye -- had long ago filed away the details of the record dates, which required playing the cuts back to them to unlock the moment. Call in the turntablists -- DJs Babu, J.Rocc and Cut Chemist: "It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Getting these guys
"Brasilintime" takes up not so much where "Keepintime" left off, but as an expansion of the theme, looking for connections, digging not just for beats but also for associations. B+ had taken the film for a screening and talk in London at the Red Bull Music Academy, a traveling free music workshop that in part sponsored his first trip.
"Afterward, there was this discussion about automated music, where it's pushing buttons as opposed to actually beating things and people who actually do music -- music in the analog sense -- and what the relationship is," B+ says. "So it was really interesting, and they were super hyped about it. They were doing their next [academy] in Sao Paolo and wanted to know if I wanted to come."
In 2002, B+ and business partner-photographer Eric Coleman descended on Brazil in advance to make some key musical connections. With filmmaker Jerry Henry, they returned a couple of months later with Gadson, Humphrey and Derf Reklaw (subbing for Palmer). There they would connect with some of Brazil's legendary drummers: Wilson das Neves (Elis Regina, Jorge Ben), Ivan "Mamao" Conti (Azymuth), Joao "Comanche" Parahyba (Trio Mocoto), their counterparts from samba, bossa nova and samba rock. Then toss top-tier DJs into the mix -- Madlib, Cut Chemist, J.Rocc, Babu and Brazil's DJ Nuts -- and let them all do their thing.
Dreamy, nonlinear, "Brasilintime" is sociology, musicology, concert film and tone poem that tries to get at the journey of music -- how it travels from place to place, how a style evolves, a technique changes in form. "The timing was perfect," B+ says. "The Brazil thing had started in the hip-hop community. Madlib had this album of Azymuth covers. Even Snoop [Dogg] went down there and shot a video."
In the beginning, he says, "I didn't have a framework. I was just accumulating. There was all of this stuff floating around." He began paying attention to the reverberations: "What I started to understand was that there's an almost exact parallel between the beginnings of samba and the beginnings of jazz here. It all happens in the same 40-year period. Jazz and samba are both born out of the urbanization of people of the African diaspora," and how that plays out.
What he came to realize was that this was, ostensibly, also the model for hip-hop. "Of course the musicians understand that perfectly. They hear the connections. Mamao is such a great example, where he's quoting this northeastern musician, called Jackson Do Pandeiro, who comes out of the tradition called embolada. Embolada is a music where two people battle each other in rhyme and tamborim ," a percussive instrument. "I make the beat for you and you rap against me. And then we reverse. And it is totally improvised."
For the drummers it was a way to hear and feel the influences firsthand. Gadson, 68, turned down a tour with Beck to be a part of the first onstage conversation in Brazil. He will be on hand at the Mayan to continue it.
"There were a lot of things I've played for years not knowing that parts of it came from that origin," Gadson says. "Maybe the foot pattern, or an eighth note followed by a quarter note." Although only one of the Brazilian drummers spoke English, they didn't have any problem getting the point across: "The drummers, the DJs, everybody was listening. They found their way into it. I played 2 1/2 hours -- straight! My socks were wet."
Parahyba, 57, was in from the get-go. Over the years, he'd done his share of genre hopping, so for him it was a moment he had been waiting for all of his life.
"I started my career in the '60s," he says. "I was a hippie, but I took in everything. This is a big experience. It's mystical. Could be a big mess. Could be wonderful. This is a dream for a musician. To be able to make this big philosophy a reality."
'Brasilintime' the film
7:30 p.m. Tuesday
The Egyptian Theater
6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
General admission: $10
An exhibition of photographs by B+ and Eric Coleman during filming of "Brasilintime."
7 p.m. Wednesday
424 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.
Paul Humphrey, James Gadson, Derf Reklaw, Babu, J.Rocc, Cut Chemist, Madlib, ; Joao "Comanche" Parahyba, Ivan "Mamao" Conti and DJ Nuts. Special guests TBA.
9 p.m. Thursday
1038 S. Hill St., L.A.
For information on all three events go to www.brasilintime.com