Benito Lertxundi - Zuzenean: 40 urte ikasten egonak
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cd cover Benito Lertxundi
Zuzenean: 40 urte ikasten egonak
Elkar (www.elkarlanean.com)

With this disc Benito Lertxundi celebrates his 40th anniversary as a performer. A Basque who had to attend school in a language he did not fully understand (Spanish) might have endeed up a fisherman in his home town of Orio. But at 19, the music-loving Lertxundi picked up a guitar and was soon "discovered." In 1965, he was part of the birth of contemporary Basque music (with the collective Ez Dok Amairu), then moved on to a solo career starting in the late 60s, and his first full length LP in 1971.

Since then he has moved from being a typical "nueva cancion" performer in the Euskara language to a kind of Basque Leonard Cohen. His voice has dropped about an octave to a deep baritone, and he is now considered one of the two grandfathers of contemporary Basque song (along with Mikel Laboa).

This two-disc collection brings into focus that full 40 years of song, with a particular emphasis on the beginning period as well as his most recent work. Here, recorded in the ancient Basque capitals of Gernika and Tolosa, Lertxundi and his band, including his partner Olatz Zugasti (harp and vocals) bring all of that history together. It is simple, lyrical folk music, singer-songwriter variety, but with the full benefit of strong musical support.

On what is perhaps his strongest record to date, the oldest songs sound new. There's a smooth, easy movement from one song to the next, but certain songs do assert themselves with their lyrical and melodic mastery.

The fine, pensive songs from his most recent studio album Nere Ekialdian, a meditation on the poet Fernando Pessoa, feature prominently here. But also, and importantly, do such Ez Dok Amairu-era songs as his first (1967) single recording "Zenbat Gera" (How many are we), and the powerful hymn of Basque youth from the 60s, "Gure Bide Galdunak" (Our lost ways).

In particular, "Bizkaia Maite" (1977), an ode to the Basque province where Bilbao and Gernika are located, and "Baldorba"(1981) represent strong melody-writing, as does "Itsasoari Begira" (for which I can not find a previously recorded version). Certainly, we may miss classics from his middle period such as "Oi Zuberoa," "Orreaga"and "Mayi" but instead there is newer material such as "Udazken Koloretan" from Hitaz Oroitz (1996). The songs are interspersed with instrumental pieces such as "Gartxot," a keyboard and violincello duet.

The band, having supported Lertxundi for some years, is reliably solid and clear. Zugasti takes the lead vocals on "Itoitz" but other than this one song, Lertxundi's gravelly baritone dominates. Backing him, Pello Ramirez (violincello and accordeon), Kutxo Otxoa de Eribe (violin) and Angel Unzu (bouzouki and guitar) stand out, and often lend the feel of a small Greek ensemble playing in a café. Indeed, the pan-European influence is more prevalent in Lertxundi than in many other prominent Basque performers (Laboa, Oskorri) who rely on local instruments such as the txalaparta or the alboka.

His Basque lyrics are provided along with French and Spanish translations in a colourful and informative booklet. Zuzenean is melodically haunting and acoustically superb. Aftter 40 years, Lertxundi asks, in a Peter Seeger cover, "Zergatik Utzi Kantazeari" (Why would I stop singing?) and with this fine recording, one might indeed ask the same question. - David Cox

CD available at cdRoots


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