Lomax: The Spanish Recordings
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The Alan Lomax Collection:
The Spanish Recordings: Galicia
The Spanish Recordings: Aragón and Valencia
The Spanish Recordings: Extremadura

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cd cover Fifty years after Alan Lomax went to Spain, his field recordings retain an extraordinary brightness, offering a useful comparison with contemporary folk forms. As always, Lomax also thoroughly documented his work in photographs and text, which adds much to the overall effect of his work in the very different regions of Galicia, Extremadura, Aragón and Valencia. Annotations by series editor Judith Cohen frame the scholarship represented on the individual recordings, making the extensive notes, bibliography and glossaries invaluable components of the total package.

The northwestern province of Galicia is often characterized as the most "Celtic" region of Spain, and the sonic evidence would seem, superficially at least, to support that impression. Hearing the instruments (gaita and gallega bagpipes, panpipes, whistles, tabor or frame drum, tambourine, triangles, bottle percussion, seashells), if aficionados detect Celtic strains, the comparison has real limits. In his work Lomax was primarily interested in vocal styles, and given the many differences, to categorize Gallego music as "Celtic" obscures rather than enlightens. Among the most interesting oral forms are the religious ballads ("¿Dónde Vai San Xoan?"), lullabies ("O Neniño"), occupational songs ("Canción de Canteros," a stonecutter's song, complete with the sounds of their work) and the copla (couplet), verses improvised in the moment, sometimes in verbal competition between singers, drawing from a vast oral repertoire primarily concerned with the vagaries of love and courtship.

cd cover Conversely, Gallego instrumental music is primarily dance oriented, the main genres being the jota and muiñeira, the alborada (an air played at dawn, Orpheus-like), and others not heard here, including brass band and the murga and charanga ensembles. Rather than imposing pre-conceived categories, it's best to appreciate the music's nuances on its own terms, and in the context of its everyday making and enjoyment. Lomax understood this, and artists from diverse backgrounds have perceived the musical vitality he documented under conditions that simply do not obtain today. Take the solitary beauty of the opener, "Toques de Chifro," an airy, soaring panpipe solo, the inspiration for the Miles Davis composition "The Pan Piper" (on Sketches of Spain). For those fascinated with the richness of present-day Gallego folk performance (such artists as Mercedes Peón come quickly to mind), Galicia will come as a revelation.

Aragón and Valencia begins with an a cappella jota, followed by a jota de baile (danced jota) in which the singer is backed by laúd (a large mandolin-like instrument in the bass register), bandurría (a picked, metal-stringed mandolin), and the dancers' castanets. Northward in Aragón's Teruel region, the jota appropriates the distinctive sound of the dulzaina (double-reed shawm) and drum or, alternatively, on "Mayos de Albarracín," guitar, laúd, bandurría, triangle and a full-bodied male chorus.

A remarkable suite from the Huesca region of northern Aragón, "Mudanzas del Dance de Yebra de Basa" comprises voice, chiflo (a three-holed recorder-like flute) and salterio (a six-stringed zither, played vertically, struck simultaneously by the singer-chiflo player as he delineates the melody. The album cover photo depicts this unusual combination. From Zaragoza, in central Aragón, comes a distinct jota and bolero sound; the examples heard here were actually recorded in concert, revealing that by the early 1950s the folk repertoire was already undergoing commercialization, in urban areas at least.

The CD's second half explores the music of Valencia, whose geography and history necessarily have given a more pan-Mediterranean feel to its music. Instruments include guitar, laúd, bandurría, dulzaina and various percussion, including the ximbomba, a friction drum with analogous forms in Italy, Malta and North Africa. Vocal styles reveal distinctive North African elements, as on "A la Vora del Ríu, Mare," a haunting unaccompanied song. The fandango, backed by solo guitar or rondalla (chamber string ensemble, sometimes with woodwinds or brass, or both) and the paso doble ("Como las Propias Rosas," performed by a brass band) are two popular Valencian forms. Lullabies, work songs and Christmas devotionals are also heard, including an aguinaldo (processional) with clarinet and bombardino (trombone).

cd cover Extremadura, in west-central Spain, bordering Portugal, is represented by a musical sample restricted to the northern Cáceres region. Apart from instruments already noted, Extremadura is home to the rabel, a bowed violin related to the Arabic rebab and Medieval rebec, and the Portuguese cavaquinho, a small guitar. It also yields an array of dances, work songs, fandango, jota and ballads, including the corro and the romance, a Hispanic narrative form sung in both secular and sacred settings. Its traces can be found in New World settings as well, reflecting the great number of the Spanish conquistadores from Extremadura, including Cortés and Pizarro. Most striking is the range and expressiveness of solo and ensemble singing, male and female, a cappella or accompanied. Take two remarkable examples from a daunting 42-track collection, "Amores He Tenido" and "La Tonadita Llana," which unleash the riveting ululating female cry known regionally as rejincho or quiliquijo, in striking aural kinship with analogous vocal techniques from North Africa and the Middle East.

Incomplete and selective though these Lomax Spanish series reissues necessarily are, the music's careful documentation represents an invaluable resource, testimony to the remarkable diversity of Iberian song and dance forms, and their relationship to pan-Mediterranean and transatlantic musics. - Michael Stone

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