ALBUM REVIEW: Rodrigo y Gabriela, “Area 52″

Best known for bringing elements of rock and jazz into their nuevo-flamenco world, acoustic guitarists Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, known as just Rodrigo y Gabriela, continue to explore and expand their musical offerings.  With the inclusion of 13 Cuban musicians, the recently-released (January 24) CD entitled “Area 52” moves solidly into a Latin jazz mode, adding more than a dollop of Caribbean flavor to Sanchez and Quintero’s spicy and distinctive nuevo-flamenco styling.

 

Most of the nine tracks, selected from RyG’s first two studio efforts (four from their self-titled debut, and five from “11:11”), benefit from the new arrangements, which include more guitar and percussion support, piano, flute, violin, the occasional brass stab…and even an extended appearance of sitar, in “Ixtapa.”  These expanded arrangements also extend the running times of most of the tracks significantly; in some cases, doubling the length.  Key among these tracks are the opening numbers, “Santo Domingo” and “Hanuman.”  The latter track rocks solidly, in a clearly Santana-esque style.

 

While all of the songs selected for the new arrangements display the joie de vivre and excitement which can frequently be heard in the duo’s live releases, tracks such as “Tamacun” — and especially “Diablo Rojo” — might have been better served with a “less is more” approach, as these pieces serve as ideal showcases for their distinctive two-guitar approach of Sanchez’s melodic line supported by Quintero’s unique rhythmic and percussive playing style; a sound that can get lost under the expanded arrangements.

 

All in all, this disc is a welcome release and foreshadows a great musical start to 2012.  Rodrigo y Gabriela and their Cuban orchestra, known as C.U.B.A., will be touring the U.S. later in the spring in support of the new album; these shows will most assuredly be full of energy and masterful music-making.

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