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Susana Baca, Peru
Lourdes Perez, Nueva Canción
Astor Piazzolla, Argentina

Reviews


South America,
Central America and Mexico


Pablo Ziegler
Asfalto -- Street Tango RCA Victor/BMG (www.rcavictor.com)

A direct quote from the liner notes: "Sentimental tango melodies within a classical context, more like chamber music. Swinging with a jazzy feel, those melodies were transformed and adapted to the demands of the rhythm of Buenos Aires." In other words, the juice has been squeezed out. You can listen to these pieces and appreciate the playing and the arrangements, but they won't make you want to get up and dance. Within the limitations set by the instrumentation (bandoneon, guitar, piano, bass and drums, with occasional violin), the music works well. Pieces are arranged to take advantage of many of the possibilities of such an ensemble, so there's some feeling of variety. The only monotony might come from the sound of the bandoneon; it's fairly limited in its tonal and dynamic range, and as it plays a major role here its shortcomings are in full view. Keeping in mind that this release appears on a classical label, this is about what one might expect. Wellarranged and well played tango music, but with little of the sensuality or heat that usually drives this music. Instead, this is an attempt to give the form more credibility and respectability as a serious genre, which almost seems to defeat its purpose. - Joe Grossman


Inkuyo
Window To The Andes
Celestial Harmonies (www.harmonies.com)

An original collection consisting almost entirely of instrumental pieces based on Andean rhythms and concerns, Window To The Andes features the gentle timbres of charango, acoustic guitar, bandurria, tipple and bass as well as the familiar pan-pipes and flutes of South America. Inkuyo, veteran recordists of five other titles for the Fortuna and Celestial Harmonies labels, are made up of the two Bolivians, Gonzalo Vargas and Jose Luis Reynolds, plus Argentinian Enrique Coria. Vargas, the trio's producer, principle composer/arranger and resident flute virtuoso, played an important role introducing Andean music to the United States and Canada as one of the founders of the group Sukay. Recorded in California, this is a faultlessly executed set that treats a complex heritage with great respect, eschewing any tendency toward excessive exhibitions or novel experiments. While the music of Inkuyo is evocative of the ancestral Andean cultures, it also possesses a contemporary air. With its mix of simple major and minor key melodies, Window To The Andes strikes alternating tones of glad warmth and sad cold. The classy production exhibits crisp images and a moderate sense of depth and space around instruments, though the lower end sounded a bit larger and forward than perhaps it should. Nonetheless, this is a high quality recording of distinctive and sky-haunted music. - Steve Taylor


Dinastia Hialguense
Sones Huastecos
Corason/Rounder (www.rounder.com)

No, Mexican music is not all mariachi and sentimental crooning. Huasteco, a type of huapango band from the central and eastern region of the country.is beautifully represented by this new release by Dinastia Hidalguense. (There are other types of huapango bands featuring, for example, non-pedal harp and cuatro instead of violin.) Dinastia features Jose Gayosso and Juan Salome Sanchez on guitars/vocals, together with Anatolio Martinez on violin. The vocalists trade leads in this program of reworked traditional numbers, with some great duet sections and plenty of the tipico falsetto yodels.The violin intersperses trenchant solos between the high pitched vocals. Martinez is all over the fingerboard, always adding a jolt of energy to the proceedings. The fiddle style features slashing bow strokes, much of it pretty staccato with many arpeggiated motifs and streams of double stopped runs. Martinez anticipates beats and chord changes over the heavily syncopated guitar rhythms which are themselves based on 6/8 meter, with an occasional overlay 2/4.

This is the kind of successful fusion of rural, traditional music with the industrial, urban experience that has been replacing the "old sounds" throughout the second and third worlds. Though the musical content is quite different, I think it fair to relate the intensity of the vocals and virtuosity of the musicians as a kind of Central American bluegrass. - Stacy Phillips


Marimba Masters and Sacred Songs: Ecuador and Colombia
Multicultural Media (www.multiculturalmedia.com)

The Pacific coastal region these two countries has a rich African heritage mixed with its Spanish culture that is explored on this set. There are three distinct ensembles represented on this collection of 1995 field recordings, two from Esmereldas, Ecuador, and one from the larger city of Buenaventura, Colombia. The Colombian ensemble, The Grupo Folklorico Alcadia Municipal uses large drums, marimbas and voices to produce a slightly formal dance music. La Voz de Nino Dios, from Esmereldas, is all vocals with a bomba accompaniment, led by Huila Rosa, a marvelous vocalist who leads her group of 5 singers in stark call-and-response songs.

The most interesting of the groups is Esmereldas' Tierra Caliente. Using marimbas, shakers, drums and singers, they have recorded a swirling, beautiful set of songs with ties to African music and Latin rhythms and hints of Andean music. Many listeners will find the sound almost modern (a la Philip Glass) in its circular insistence. These seven songs are some of the most enticing music to come out of the now impressive "Music of the Earth" series. - CF


Susana Baca
(Luaka Bop)

Introduced to a world audience on Luaka Bop's Afro-Peruvian collection, Susana Baca now steps into the solo spotlight with her solo debut. The eponymous album features Baca's rich, balmy voice with a lean, sinewy backup of hand-played percussion and a few dabs of accompaniment. The sound is a rootsy, understated cousin to Afro-Cuban music that swings but does so softly. Who knows, maybe those who embraced Tony Bennett for his effortless cool may take to Baca's quiet soulful sway. - Marty Lipp


Luiz Carlos Borges
Gaucho Rider
CrossCurrents (www.hgmktg.com/crosscurrents/)

They call it "gaucho music," a blending of Brazilian and Argentine music along the Rio Grand do Sul. There are lots of references here; the jazz penchant of much urban music from both countries and the country music of Brazil called forro both take a dominant role on this recording. There's a bow to the tango here and there, and an occasional subtle nod to rock. It's urbane and knowing, cosmopolitan posing as country.

Borges is a flashy and inventive accordionist, and this is at the center of Gaucho Rider. His sound is big and flamboyant, sometimes shamelessly lush. Alma, the backing band of bass, guitar, percussion and drums, supports him every step of the way with wild energy bursts and plush, smooth sounds as needed. There's the occasional touch of old traditions (ie; birimbau here and there) but mostly this is energetic folk-pop and jazz, played with red hot precision and plenty of passion. - CF


Gabriela
Detrás del Sol
Intuition/Songline (songtone@hooked.net)

This Argentine singer and songwriter has a divine voice; soulful, earthy... no, downright sexy would best describe it. But rather than wrap it in a boring singer-songwriter band of pseudo-folk, she has expanded her vision by creating a band that any one in their right mind would have killed for. Bill Frisell's sinuous, slidey guitar echoes her sensuality perfectly. Percussionist Alex Acuna is languid, laid back and smooth. Eyvind Kang appears on the violin, adding some interesting edge on some of the tracks while making others so liquid they almost flow off the disc. Rob Burger's accordion gives it both a regional flavor at one turn, and a touch of the avant garde at others. Bill Douglass delivers understated but never under-played bass lines.

This is not a bowl-you-over kind of recording. Producer Lee Townsend has achieved that perfect mix. It's slow, subtle and sweet. The songs are a blend of seeming simplicity masking a deeper, more complex whole that creeps up in strange and beautiful ways; Gabriela's voice is urgent, slightly smokey, drifting on music that is never insistent and impossible to ignore. - CF


Emma Junaro
Mi Corazón En La Ciudad
Riverboat Records/U.K.

A perfect title, because this album by one of Bolivia's great singers is a union of heart-felt folk styles with an urban diversity. She and Uruguayan producer Fernando Cabrera chose the songs of poet Matilde Casazola as a starting point for this recording, simple, almost stark pieces that were seemingly made for Junaro's equally pure, beautiful voice. What makes this album jump from the stacks of great vocalists around is the incredible production. Cabrera's arrangements are jewel-like, taking bits of European folk, Brazilian pop, or medieval classico as accents to music that always reflects Andean heritage and contemporary South America. Using only acoustic instruments, ranging from classical guitar and piano to zampona, quena and charango, trios and quartets that are seemingly fragile vessels are just strong enough to carry her rich voice without competing. A simple piano line is accented by an Andean drum, a charango solo is augemmented simply by a single percussive click, a jazzy guitar meets windy flute line, underscoring a voice of intimacy and conviction. While each cut may seem to quote from jazz, new song, and indigenous folk, these songs, like the artists themselves, are originals, statements made by an ancient culture to a modern world. - CF


Arawi
The Doctrine Of Cycles
New Albion

Arawi is The Contemporary Orchestra of Native Instruments. Starting with the ancient traditional instruments of their Andean country, this ensemble of over sixty musicians explores the world of sound: environmental, classical and modern. What is represented here is a true interactive music, a play of notes between the musicians themselves, and the musicians and their natural world. "Amtasiani" is a brooding, windy homage to the memory that lies beyond memory, played out by a number of mohoceo tropos (flute groups). It seems much like a Bartok piece, but with no strong melodic structure underneath. "Pendular Movement," the closing piece composed by Arawi director Oscar Garcia, displays the full sonic range of the orchestra, mixing discordant strings, breezy flutes and subtle, elusive melody. It builds to a violent crescendo, only to float off into the mountains in the end. This music explores the division between tradition and modern life, old technology and new ideas. The Doctrine Of Cycles is a remarkable recording. - CF


René Marino Rivero
Bandoneon Pure: Dances Of Uruguay
Smithsonian Folkways

When a recording like this comes along I just have to listen in awe. Here is a magnificent record of a solo artist from Uruguay, a master craftsman with the soul of a poet. He plays the bandoneon ("the breathing box"), the German designed free-reed instrument made famous by the tango artists of Argentina. Unlike the more popular Piazzolla, Rivero is devoted to the rural style, playing tango, waltz, polka and milonga with a simplicity that only the most absorbing player can turn into a thing of rare grace. Rivero's repertoire includes old folk music, early theater pieces, and modern compositions. There is no flash, no fusion, no references to jazz, pop or world beat. It is unadorned by technology, unmarred by cleverness.


Totó La Momposina Y Sus Tambores La Candela Viva
Realworld

This is the voices and drums of Columbia, lots of them! The phenomenal voice of Totó and the thunder of her band is awe inspiring. This is neither the stuff of folklorists or pop fission. This is living, breathing power music, born on an island in the Magdalena River of African, Caribbean and native South American roots. The record displays three styles, the thundering drums of the tambores, the more Spanish stings and percussion of the sextetos, and more ancient indigenous sound of the flutes and drums of the gaita. If there is one track to recommend it is the powerful "Malanga." The strum of strings, the percussive melodies of the marimbula (the bass thumb piano), the incessant rattle and roll of the percussion make it an irresistible introduction. - CF


Cuarteto Latinamericano
Musica De Feria: The String Quartets Of Silvestre Revueltas
New Albion

I am not a classical music expert, or even a buff. But I do recognize great music when I hear it, and these pieces are magnificent music. Both the composer and the ensemble are from Mexico, but the music is an experience beyond those borders. Revueltas was born in Mexico in 1899, and grew up during one of the most explosive artistic eras in history. The paintings of Picasso, the music of Ives, the experiments of Stockhausen and the social upheaval of 20th century politics were all marking the era as dangerous and new. His music was born of the rural Mexican landscape, but was surely influenced by the art and politics of the times. He quotes Indian and Hispanic music, but rarely is it overt. This is creative music, its own thing apart from the environment. Cuarteto Latinamericano delivers this music with technical skill and the unrestrained passion of folk music. Give eight minutes to "Quartet # 4 - Musica De Feria." It's emotional power is far ranging, its structure complex but never over-intellectual. - CF


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