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In this battle song from Xenoblade Chronicles 3 Future Redeemed, between 1:09 and 1:13, there's a jazzy piano riff of notes that steadily descend. Something about it really sticks out to me, and sounds iconic (like I've heard something like it before). Is there a name for this particular type of riff? Or is it emblematic of a certain genre/style of music?

If I'm not mistaken, the entire song is basically in a really up-beat major key up to that point, whereas this riff just pops in out of nowhere in a minor key?

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That riff is called a montuno. It is actually only a snippet of a montuno because a montuno is generally a repetitive rhythmic pattern that extends over many bars and also outlines the harmony with the pitches used. It is played mostly by the piano in Afro Cuban, Salsa and Latin Jazz. Over the years this type of pattern has spread into other Latin and non-Latin styles as well. Sometimes it is just single notes played in both hands and other times it can combine single notes with 2 or 3 note chords. It can be clave based (two bars long) or non-clave based (one bar long). This one in particular is a single note two bar clave based pattern. Clave is both an instrument, 2 sticks that are struck together and also the name of a 2 bar pattern that is the underlying pulse that other rhythm instruments base their patterns on. The pattern can start on either bar and is named for the number of notes in each bar, 5 total, either 3-2 or 2-3.

Below is what is played on the recording with one exception, I replaced the final note, C# with D to make it a better looping pattern. The descending aspect of the pattern comes from the chords, written above. The 2-3 clave on which this pattern is based is in the staff below for reference:

enter image description here

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  • Thanks so much! As an aside, I found this video on Montuno that basically killed me with how powerful it is @.@: youtu.be/_sG6RI7aYVQ?t=218
    – chausies
    Apr 28, 2023 at 11:43
  • @chausies I tried to reasonably include as much detail as I could but there are actually entire books written about this! “The Salsa Guidebook” by Rebecca Mauleón is particularly good because it has chapters on different instruments and different grooves and how they work together. I believe she also has a separate book dedicated to piano. Apr 28, 2023 at 17:03
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    @chausies At 4:20 he plays pretty much the same pattern a semitone up in Cm! Apr 28, 2023 at 17:07
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It is a very typical example of a Montuno, a common Latin (eg. salsa) piano comping riff that features (in the right hand) arpeggiated (broken) chords while accentuating (in octaves) one of the chord voices (with nice voice leading) in a repeating 2 bar syncopated pattern.

In your example the voice leading is chromatically descending (root, M7, 7, 6). The Montuno is very brief and, as you pointed out yourself, somewhat out of context. Here it is more a quote. Usually it repeats over the chord changes throughout an entire song or section.

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