Rodrigo Y Gabriela – Area 52
Review by Jack Foley
THERE’S no word better to describe Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest album Area 52 than masterful.
The Mexican guitar duo’s first recorded collaboration with another group of musicians comes with the expertise of a 13-piece Cuban orchestra composed of some of Havana’s finest young players, collectively known as the C.U.B.A.
It sees them revisiting nine of their compositions and re-interpreting them in a new and dramatic fashion, as they have never been heard before, complete with Latin, orchestral and even Eastern influences.
Guests include Anoushka Shankar on sitar, rock drummer John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie, Testament) on two tracks, jazz bass player Carles Benavent (Miles Davis, Chick Corea) on two tracks and Palestinian group Le Trio Joubran.
The results are electrifying… and provide as enjoyable an instrumental listen as you’re likely to hear all year. Each track is a joyful celebration and a layered, vibrant treat that embellishes the Rodrigo y Gabriela sound without losing it. And one that also appears to have benefitted from the duo’s recent cinema work in providing the scores for both Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Puss in Boots.
Indeed, so good is this listen that it’s hard to pick out clear highlights. But Hanuman and Ixtapa are good places to start… the Spanish guitar sound thriving against the backdrop of Cuban horns and percussion to inject even more life into the tracks. On Inxtapa, meanwhile, this eventually gives rise to some exemplary sitar work from Shankar.
11:11, meanwhile, begins with a familiar guitar plucking, striking an insistent rhythm, before dazzling with some fine piano work to contrast the intricate riff-making.
Diablo Rojo, meanwhile, interweaves brass, silky smooth guitar riffs, tinkling pianos and strings to mesmerising, celebratory effect, stopping to indulge in a thrilling percussion workout, while Logos slows down the tempo to romantic effect to showcase a softer side that also feels cinematic. The guitars work so well with the piano arrangements.
Juan Loco immediately picks up the tempo and is another glorious carnival of a track, building to the even more lively finale that is Tamacun… another romp and a great way to bring proceedings to a close complete with brass fanfares and delicious guitar work.
This really is as much a celebration of the music of Cuba and Rodrigo y Gabriela’s inspirations as it is a thrilling showcase of their continued genius.
Download picks: Hanuman, Ixtapo, 11:11, Diablo Rojo, Logos