Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A.
Area 52
ATO Records

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“