Lawson Rollins – Espirito (Infinita Records INF-204, 2010)
Chris Burton Jacome – Levanto (CBJ 1347, 2010)
Even with all sorts of instruments that were once unfamiliar and exotic becoming well known through wider awareness of global music, it’s good to see and hear that old standby, the guitar, still getting a share of the spotlight. In the hands of a master, your basic six-string can charm, inspire, impassion, mystify and stir emotions every which way.
Lawson Rollins is just such a master, playing with lightning-fast precision when he so chooses but also caressing gentler subtleties out of his axe and, even though it’s his name above the title on Espirito, working as a team player and sharing the solo space. A wise move, given that he’s joined by an international gathering of musicians including such notables as renowned violinist Charlie Bisharat, Cuban drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Persian kamancheh wizard Kayhan Kalhor and Brazilian icons Airto Moreira and Flora Purim alongside the steady hands of Randy Tico (bass) and Dave Bryant (percussion).
The music is similarly far-reaching, flowing easily from jazzed up flamenco, samba and bossa nova to Afro-Latin workouts, Gypsy swing and Oriental texturing. Concluding with a three-song cycle called “The Caravan Trilogy” which handily traces the evolution of music from the east to the west, Espirito is sweet and sultry enough to appeal to the smooth jazz crowd, but there’s nothing watered-down or manufactured about the music. With Rollins’ guitar at the helm of a topflight musical crew, the result is layered, sophisticated, evocative pieces that combine styles and cultures craftily and expertly.
For Arizona-born guitarist Chris Burton Jacome it’s all about flamenco, a style in favor of which he cast aside the rock and roll aspirations of his youth. He took up residence in Spain, determined to learn flamenco inside and out. How thoroughly he absorbed his lessons is evident on Levanto, which is comprised of the music Jacome wrote for “Calo Flamenco,” a touring show staged by Martin Gaxiola, another flamenco-loving American.
You don’t get the visuals of the show on the CD, of course, but the infectiously striking music is by turns thrilling, whimsical and melancholy, treading a tricky path between tradition and innovation. Jacome’s deftly precise guitar leads a small combo of violin, bass and percussion through original compositions in which the sounds of clapping hands and dancing feet are true musical instruments as well
There are songs where split-second rhythmic timing is obviously of the essence, and Jacome navigates them as assuredly as he brings an aching, longing feel to the more sparse and stark passages. Levanto is fabulous flamenco that can stand alongside any created in Spain or by those inspired beyond its borders.
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