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Señor Coconut

Uwe Schmidt -- one of Germany's quirkiest electronic musicians with more than two dozen alter egos, including Atom Heart, Lassigue Bendhaus, and Lisa Carbon -- masquerades as South American composer/dancer Señor Coconut on this release, the now-available precursor to 1999's El Baile Alemán. For that album Schmidt reconfigured the sterile, repetitive sounds of Kraftwerk in an attempt to locate technology's spicier side (if there is such a thing); and while Düsseldorf's once-reigning lipstick-wearing robots plied a purely mental confrontation with music (raising machinery over machismo, let alone mankind), Señor Coconut injected hot-blooded humor into the whole synthetic shebang. After all, what could be more ridiculous than a Third World "band" covering First World avant-garde music?

El Gran Baile finds el señor laying the groundwork for his Latin excursions into Teutonic tom-tomfoolery. And though it's a less fluid or concise recording than the re-'werked Alemán, it still finds the Santiago transplant tinkering endlessly with Latin polyrhythms and an overactive, digital libido.

As the seeds of a full-blown virtual combo sprouted in his head, Coco tried to crack the code between chocolate and sauerkraut: guaguanco libre he calls it. There's also "Supertropical," which Coco promises to be neotraditional. (Apparently if you add neo- to anything, it instantly becomes a new art form. Just ask Os Mutantes or Beck.) "Upper Mambo/Lower Funk" realigns chakras like nobody's business, mein amigos. Note the bowel-shaking hip-hop boom of "Diarios Clave" and ask yourself why the ghost of Gene Krupa bullies Tito Puente on "El Coco Baile." Coco also drops an oscillating dose of sci-fi jive ("Pisco Control"), plus entrancing, Eno-derived palate cleansers ("La Noche Cool," "4-D Cha Cha"). It's tight. It's precise. Ist frenético! It's also completely computerized simulation.

Playful and adventurous, Chile's most notorious Autobahn outlaw offers an early blueprint of technical possibilities (retro-futuro, anyone?) in what otherwise might serve only to remind dull-witted gringos that it's time -- once again -- to raise that little flag at Pollo Tropical.

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John La Briola

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