Friday, February 17, 2012

Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. Take Us To Area 52

Until listening to Area 52 by Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. (ATO Records) I was not familiar with the acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Listening to this disc I discovered that they initially were playing in a thrash metal band in their native Mexico. Going to Europe, they busked as an acoustic guitar duo, rooted in flamenco style and playing a wide range of material that included covers of metal and Led Zeppelin, although I must admit I have not heard their prior recordings.

This album, produced by Peter Asher, has them with by jazz pianist Alan Wilson who had a decade ago given them a jazz salsa recording with latin rhythms. Along with Wilson, they engaged some Cuban musicians to lend their rhythmic feel to this project. These musicians are the Cuba Universal Band Association from which C.U.B.A. derives. Prominent among these musicians Feliciano Arango Noa on bass and the percussion of Otto Santana Selis,

The intent was to redo songs from their two prior recordings However, after recording in Cuba, they felt they could add more guitars and also added some rock flavor to get away from a strictly traditional Cuban, and Latin sound. They also brought in some guest collaborators for this purpose as well which had pre-production and production in several countries. It is this fabulous mix of material, artists and performances that immediately captured my attention and led to my enthusiasm about the many pleasures to be heard here.

Cuban rhythms greet the duos opening guitar figures for San Domingo, with Wilson’s piano helping establish the mood as the horns and strings add to the heat while its one of the tracks that Gabriela experiments with a way way pedal. Samuel Formell Alfonso, of the great band, Los Van Van, is guest drummer on this exhilarating ride. Hanuman was a composition inspired by Carlos Santana and on these reworking Rodrigo added some electric guitar to his flamenco playing on a number that certainly evokes the great guitarist set against some horns and violin in the arrangement with some interesting flute from Jorge Liliebre Sorzano. The drumming of John Tempesta (of White Zombie fame) adds to the rock flavor over the hot afro-Cuban grooves.

An undeniable factor to the duo’s success is there unique mix of various traditions and style. On Ixtapa, after Wilson’s sedate opening followed by the acoustic guitar lead to state the theme , followed by a brief segment featuring percussion before a new movement joined by Anoushka Shankar on sitar who takes an extended, intensive solo followed by the vibrant flamenco styled guitars of the leaders on a mesmerizing performance. Carles Benavent guests on bass (with Noa on second bass) and Carlota Teresa Polledo Noriega guests on vocal for 11:11, with its mercurial tempo and more exquisite playing from the two (including a solo by Rodrigo on a Fender lap steel guitar) driven along by the brilliant rhythm section. Noriega takes her vocal during the closing moments with C.U.B.A. chanting in chorus as the performance fades. Other highlights include Master Maqui, on which the Le Trio Joubran add ouds to the mix of percussion and horn and Diablo Rojo, with the fiery rhythms and stunning flamenco accents of the guitars of Rodrigo & Gabriela as the horns add their brassy counterpoint.

In addition to the nine performances on the CD, this comes with a DVD containing a fascinating documentary discussing the recording of this album. This recording has been a revelation and this writer has already ordered one of their earlier recordings being impressed by this recording. Also, Rodrigo Y Gabriela will be touring North America this spring ( including dates at Massey Hall in Toronto, Radio City Music Hall in NYC, Warner Theatre in Washington DC and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. If I was going to be at JazzFest this year, they would be my must see act no matter what act (and it would not matter if it was Trombone Shorty or Bruce Springsteen) might be on at the same time.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for the release. Here is a video of the two performing.

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