La Ruta de los Soramontanos - Balbarda
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La Ruta de los Soramontanos
self-released (

The dense instrumental perfection of this debut recording by Spanish quartet Balbarda immediately struck me, and the impact has only grown with repeated listenings. Xurxo Ordóñez carries most melodies initially on an exceptionally articulate flute, and also contributes a battery of different gaitas, or bagpipes, with a range of dramatic tones. Javier Monteagudo strums sensitive guitar backgrounds, adds jazzy oud solos, and dynamic slapped bass rounds. The zanfona, or hurdy-gurdy, of Jota Martínez sounds like a sandpaper symphony on melody and drone, and does a credible accordion impersonation. Ana Alcaida's luxuriously raw, furious, yet sinuous violin complements the zanfona and is a high-point when soloing.

Like many of the tracks, "Charracoleando" is based on a swinging 3/8 beat, in this case introduced by guitar strum, joined by precise flute on melody, soon accompanied by the gritty wheeze of zanfona and ragged violin, paring down to bass notes on guitar and hand percussion before the ensemble returns with renewed density. On "Al Histe," slapped bass to a galloping rhythm supports a bright flute melody, violin scratchy and fierce in support, the theme maturing as gaita enters, zanfona used to fine effect both as drone and melody, violin taking a hair-raising solo before the music recedes to stick percussion and a single guitar chord behind a suspiciously jazzy lute solo, the whole ending with abrasive violin and general jaleos, or revelry. "Piedrahita" features another swinging 3/8 beat, begun with a Celtic-sounding guitar strum and staying a bit off balance with odd stutters and dropped beats, melody pursued first by gaita, then flute, leading to another gritty violin solo, zanfona drone adding depth.

"Jota de Balbarda" starts with a quick 3/8 beat with emphasis on 3 and 1, gaita and castanets merrily skipping in the introduction, zanfona taking the melody as the full ensemble kicks in, Jota Martínez' vocal laid atop rolling bass strings, accompanied by a wailing violin counterpoint. "A Poza da Ferida" begins as a stately waltz on zanfona and guitar, violin and gaita progressively reinforcing the melody, before accelerating into a quick fiddle-led common-time bounce. Slapped bass guitar strings undergird a celebratory melody on the final song, "Malacoria," first on flute then on zanfona, dropping into a more meditative passage before ending on a high note.

Liner notes are in Spanish. The balanced instrumentation of Balbarda conveys Medieval, Celtic, Moorish, and naturally Spanish ambiance in a compelling and enjoyable fashion. - Jim Foley

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