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Thursday, December 14

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Concert Sun Mar 24 2013

Review: Las Guitarras de España @ City Winery, 3/21

"The Guitars of Spain" had guitar-like instruments from at least three other countries besides Spain on stage with them last Thursday by the end of their performance at City Winery.

But even from the start of the set, bandleader Carlo Basile's namesake flamenco guitar was merely the accompaniment, as a sitar-like Indian veena introduced clear Indian influences into Las Guitarras de España's globe-trotting set of Spanish-langauge world music. By the last two songs of the evening, not only were the flamenco guitar and veena plucking along together, but a special guest from Senegal appeared, adding his own contribution to the stringed instrument fanfare with a 21-stringed west-African kora. Colin Bunn, of openers Los Hombres Perdidos, rounded it all out with a good 'ol American hollow-body jazz guitar for good measure.

Is "world music" merely a cop-out genre--a catch-all phrase for unfocused, miscellaneous music? Or is it a challenge, an attempt to defy the chance or possibility of falling into any specific musical category?

Clearly, Basile and Las Guitarras de España choose to approach the latter option. And for the most part, they lived up to it last Thursday. In addition to the band's variety of worldly stringed instruments, Las Guitarras de España's set featured Indian tabla drums, a west-African "talking drum", a flamenco dancer, two vocalists, and a small horn and rhythm section. It was an overwhelming amount of culture on one single stage. And while there was the occasional feeling that the indo-afro-flamenco sound was a little too experimental in its ambition, it was paced in a way so as to not lose the audience's attention throughout the entire evening.

On the specifically south-Indian influenced "Swan Song", the swirling combination of veena and tablas picked up into an impressive hypnotic trance. But not every song featured every instrument or cultural influence. Indian-influenced songs gave way to more traditional Spanish-style songs featuring vocals from Patricia Ortega and interpretive flamenco dancing from Wendy Clinard.

It was on these more traditional flamenco pieces that Las Guitarras de España were most impressive. Clinard's dancing, in a venue where almost everyone in the audience is also having dinner, completely captivated the room with her rapid foot-tapping and impassioned body movements.

Los Hombres Perdidos offered an opening set focused hard on Cuban jazz standards from the 1950s, which may have offered some insight into the band's name--"The Lost Men"--by showcasing a handful of gringos playing and singing music from a different language, place, and time.

With a slightly more minimalist set-up than Las Guitarras de España, Los Hombres Perdidos blazed through Cuban jazz standards with an ease and expertise that defied the band members' seeming distance from that era of music. Latin jazz often takes advantage of a strange tension created between loose, cymbal-heavy beats and fast, staccato melodies. It makes it seem like the music is always on the verge of cacophony, but never too much, and often in just the right way. Los Hombres Perdidos walked this thin line very well on Thursday.

Everyone from Los Hombres Perdidos participated in Las Guitarras de España's set in some form or another. And when the group's Senegalese guests joined Las Guitarras de España on stage to feature the west-African kora and talking drum on the last few songs--on top of all the other kinds of instruments already on stage--the point was clear that as a band, Las Guitarras de España is about much more than just the Spanish guitar.

During the last song--a lullaby led mostly by the kora--each band member slowly filed offstage until all that was left was that one kora player, still plucking as he finally turned around and exited backstage. It was an instrument that wasn't even indicated on the night's bill or at all related in name to "las guitarras de España."

Obviously, no one seemed to mind.

 
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