Classico Latino and Friends ‘Journey through Latin America’ (Classico Latino) 4/5

Here is a novel idea. Take classically trained chamber music musicians from the UK and fuse with Latin American musicians who are also classically trained, but, in addition, have a natural sensiblity for their own folk music and fuse the two into a cohesive whole. It may superficially sound a simple enough task to undertake, but in practice this requires a good deal of skill and understanding to pull off allied with a profound respect for the two distinct, if not necessarily mutually exclusive, musical cultures. The good news for the listener is that the finished product is a both a refreshing and, in parts, passionate reworking of some of the finest examples of the Latin American songbook. Recorded at the prestigious Abbey Road studios, this album has the potential to reach a wider audience that may be new to Latin American folk music and is looking for a beginners way in. The sounds take in a myriad of styles from bolero, danza, jorupa, rumba and tango to mention but a few. The tone is set by the instantly catchy opener, ‘Alma llanera’ (Soul of the plains) which is an example of the jorupa style from Venezuela and this features some lovely interplay between strings and piano. Another winner of a tune is the famous rumba song ‘Moliendo café’ (Grinding coffee) which was memorably covered as an Afro-Cuban jazz number by Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache band in New York, but here has a more organic Puerto Rican folk theme complete with percussion and piano vamps. The song features the guest vocals of Eirini Tornesaki. Indeed Puerto Rico is also the destination from which the wonderful song ‘Capullito de alheli’ emanates and readers will recall the superb rendition by Caetano Veloso a decade or so ago on an album dedicated to the Spanish language repertoire of the Latin American continent. Here the opening piano vamp leads into some light and uplifting ensemble performances and the piece develops into an essentially Afro-Cuban structure with all the feel of the Buena Vistas who have surely been an influence on Classico Latino’s thinking. Virtuosity abounds on the bouncy Columbian number ‘A lo que vinimos’ while Carlos Gardel’s seminal Argentine tango song ‘El dia que me quieras’ is not quite the radical departure that Eddie Palmieri conjured up on his memorable ‘White album’ (The Latin music equivalent of the Beatles famous recording), but is nonetheless different again from the original and works extremely well in its own right. Classico Latino are the brainchild of cellist Graham Walker, violinst Lizzie Ball and Columbian pianist Ivan Guevera and the collective endeavour is certainly one of the year’s finest world fusion projects thus far this year. One live date at the Gateshead will be forthcoming on 13 July. Tim Stenhouse

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