Gabriel Ayala and Will Clipman
Passion, Fire & Grace (Canyon Records CR-7098, 2010)
Native American guitarist Gabriel Ayala (of the Yaqui people) has got an ear for different styles, the chops to play them and the gumption to mix things up. Where his focus was on playing classical guitar for a good portion of his professional career, the last few years have seen his fingers gravitating more toward jazz, flamenco and tango.
Passion, Fire & Grace has ample amounts of everything the title promises; Ayala delicately nails pieces that split the difference between the Iberian Peninsula and the Southwestern U.S., with some choice stops in between.
Whether stretching out on snappy rumba flamenco, incorporating lesser-known forms such as farruca into the “JazzMenco” of the title track, creating an inspired improvisation around a basic chord progression or expertly covering compositions by the likes of Vicente Amigo, Luiz Bonfa and Paco de Lucia, Ayala’s acoustic ingenuity thrills and caresses. But he doesn’t go it alone. Joining him on percussion is Will Clipman, a player who has mastered many beat-providing instruments from around the world and knows exactly where to fit them in.
Apart from building frequently tasty foundations beneath Ayala’s picking and strumming, Clipman’s array of hand drums and rhythmic devices adds zest to the livelier selections and mystery to the ethereal ones, and there’s a satisfying level of both on the disc.
The symbiosis between these two players ranges from laid-back simple to almost supernaturally tight. I’ll let you pick your own best example of the latter, but my favorite instance of the former occurs on the spatial, pulsating “Whispers from Eagle Hill / Zuni Sunrise,” which also includes the voice of Ed Lee Natay, the Navajo singer who recorded his first album with Canyon Records 60 years ago.