Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A.
This album’s birth is more complex than
meets the eye. The songs aren’t new, in the
conventional sense. The wildly talented
Mexican guitar duo selected nine tracks from
their last two albums—11:11 and Rodrigo
y Gabriela—reworking them with the ace
guidance of British jazz pianist Alex Wilson
and the 13-piece C.U.B.A. (Collective
Universal Band Association) orchestra.
For full effect, place a few of the originals
next to new versions and you’ll find that
the stripped-down guitar instrumentals, the
ancestors of these new compositions, are
infectious. But the result of meshing Latin,
Cuban, jazz, metal, rock, Arabic, and Hindi
influences is downright hot and sexy—the
sense of urgency on Area 52 is overwhelming.
The DVD offers an intriguing behind-the-scenes
glimpse of the music in the making, as
the Cuban musicians attempt to match their
classical training with Rod and Gab’s madly
original phrasing. The musicians are shown
clapping out syncopated beats, trying hard
to grasp the rapid-fire rhythms, though they
eventually find a common ground.
“Hanuman” is a lively track outshining
its former self with added rock drumming
and fleeting electric solos. Besides the nylon
and steel strings, some electric and lap steel
guitar (Gab gives an acoustic wah a whirl),
the instrumentals incorporate experimental
percussion, horns, piano and organ, bass,
violin, sitar, oud, and rare Cuban drums.
The adventurous “11:11” features David
Gilmour-like tones (Rodrigo calls it an ode
to Pink Floyd) and closes with native chanting.
It’s not all exotic, though. The primal
acoustic strummer “Logos” was given a jazz
alter ego with subtle piano, drums, and bass.
If this all sounds complex—and literally,
it does—imagine these formidable players
trying to dismantle the sheer genius of Rod’s
mind-boggling speed and Gab’s off-kilter
rhythmic stylings. They play so percussively,
harmonically, and passionately that at time as
it’s hard to discern the guitar from the other
instruments, especially on “Juan Loco.”
The primarily self-taught Rodrigo y
Gabriela plunged into an alien world of
orchestrated Cuban music, and it’s awe-inspiring
to hear the result and see even a
bit of how it was done. —Tessa Jeffers
Must-hear track: “Juan Loco“