Sunday, March 9, 2008

In Review--Musica De Espana!

Photo: Gazpacho Andalu (from Joe's Pub, New York)

Gazpacho Andalù
Flamenco De Vuelta E Ida

Independent Release

Juan Manuel Cañizares

Suite Iberia (Albeniz por Cañizares)

Sony BMG Masterworks

Gazpacho reminds me of a scene from Pedro Almodovar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," where the most crazed woman of them all splashes a bowl of gazpacho on the lead character. Tomato, garlic and remnants of sleeping pills run down the face of the woman and soak her dress. This is one side of Spain, (over-the-top characters), via the movie business that has shaped my life, along with hearing fiery flamenco guitar and vocals. My ancestral DNA goes on alert and my heart feels energized when I hear sounds of Andalusia.

So I am delighted to have received two flamenco recordings recently. The first recording I am going to mention, Flamenco De Vuelta E Ida hails from the New York based, Gazpacho Andalù. This fusion project blends music from North Africa, Southern Spain with Hispanic American influences. If you take a listen to track 3, Baile De La Reja, you will hear flamenco flute, along with Carmen Salado on vocals, and that fiery flamenco guitar I mentioned earlier. The following track, No Encuentro Tu Pasiòn begins with a jazz drum solo, and then marries Caribbean and North African rhythms and yet, it still feels like a flamenco piece.

I find this CD passionate throughout with some nice twists and turns that keep the musicians on their toes. The only surprise I did not care much for was the appearance of an electric guitar on track 7. I was editing a novel while listening to the CD and that guitar just felt jarring to me. Other than that, Alfonso Cid, Arturo Martìnez, Gary Raheb, Antonio De Vivo and Jainardo Batista deliver some gorgeous flamenco, worthy of a cinematic moment. And they have found a saner use for gazpacho than Almodovar's characters.

I learned about the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz only a couple of years ago, and I heard one of his suites from "Suite Iberia" performed on piano and cello (by Norwegian musicians nonetheless). At that time I was introduced to several Spanish classical composers, who no one told me about prior because no one in my family even knew about them. And the history of western music class that I took at college also did not mention any Spanish classical composers. On one hand, I felt slighted by this omission of music history and on the other hand, I was delighted to discover Isaac Albeniz's Suites, which paint a more vibrant picture of Spain than Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain" or any other musical project I heard celebrating Spain.

Well, music lovers only hearing Suite Iberia for the first time on flamenco guitarist Juan Manuel Cañizare's work for two guitars, Suite Iberia (Albeniz por Cañizares), might be surprised that this work was originally composed for piano. The virtuoso guitarist was up for the challenge of rearranging all 12 suites for two guitars. Then he played both guitars creating a rich sonority that boasts the vibrant colors and rhythms of Andalusia and then some.

"The Catalan musical genius (Albeniz) summarized his creative accomplishments in this magnificent Suite, where 10 of the 12 pieces are inspired by Andalusia." (Liner notes). Also according to the liner notes, Debussy spent his last days playing these suites. And now Cañizares has arranged the suites for two guitars while fusing classical and flamenco guitar. Certainly this is both a classical and a flamenco recording worthy of special attention.

Although this music emits warm embers and soothing tones, it's not meant to be relegated to the background. Plenty of virtuoso guitar playing, not to mention a good use of musical instincts can be heard through the recording. The suites reflect on various moods and paint pictures of sunny Spain in our imaginations. Certainly this recording could act as a starting point to discovering Spain's rich classical and even folkloric musical heritage.

Sony Masterworks

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