Cheo Hurtado and his cuatro, a small four-stringed guitar, team up with a quartet of different harpists, one at a time, on Cuatro Arpas y un Cuatro, showcasing the lively, heady music of the Venezuelan llanos, or central plains. Imagine cowboy angels with maracas. Punctilious production captures every nuance of tone, and while each of these twelve songs is melodically simple and straightforward, usually employing only two or three chords, the arrangements are precise, no mean feat with playing of such exuberance.
The harp of Eudes Alvarez adorns the first three tracks, the highlight being "Quirpa," quick waltz beat emphasizing the last and first beats of each measure, a common feature of this style, notes cascading chromatically from the harp, Hurtado strumming ever-changing chords with a smoothness seemingly at odds with his machine-gun rapidity, bass notes plucked semi-stopped and very percussive. The second trio of tracks features harpist José Archila, which presents a kora-like glistening of notes on the intro and outro of "Periquero," the cuatro strummed fast and high with a bell-like effect. Alexis Ojeda's tracks begin with "San Rafael," his harp a bit calmer, with more emphasis on chording and low-register elaboration, Hurtado following the melody on cuatro with those staccato strummed chords. "Chipola" begins with a cuatro intro, picked notes flowing into precision flailing, Gustavó Carusí's electric bass thuddingly prominent and adding a jazzy subtext to Carlos Orozco's carefree, melodic harp, and "Carnaval" emphasizes preternaturally precise coordination between cuatro and harp.
The energy level on "Cuatro Arpas y un Cuatro" is as high as the quality of musicianship, and the joyous good spirits of this traditional Venezuelan music may leave you enervated, but content. - Jim Foley
Available direct from Tropical Music
Also available at cdroots.com: Music From The Orinoco River
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