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8.557329 - Latin American Guitar Music
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Latin American Guitar Music

The guitar has become inextricably woven into the soul of Latin American music since its arrival from the Iberian Peninsula. From the meditative vihuela tablatures to the gut-wrenching songs of gypsy cantaores, the guitar personified aesthetic opposites, which played a key rôle in the evolution of its sound in the Americas. European forms and dances were transformed by the magic realism and inexhaustible angst of the New World into a unique language full of verve, passion, defiance, pathos and ebullient sensuality. Valse-Pasillo-Joropo, Milonga-Candombe-Tango... Salsa-Merengue-Vallenato... Saudade-Samba- Bossa Nova...and so on. No one collection could possibly represent the sheer breadth and variety of musical forms we know today as Latin America. The music included here represents contrasting styles from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and a timeless ballad from Cuba’s Leo Brouwer.

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), the controversial pioneer of the avant-garde Tango, transformed the music to instrumental high art. His restless fusion of jazz, modern and traditional Tango yielded some of the most sought-after compositions for arrangers and performers alike. I arranged this version of La muerte del angel and Primavera porteña for solo guitar from printed chart editions and Piazzolla’s 1973 recording.

The bewitching melancholy of the waltzes of Dilermando Reis (1916-1977) is hard to resist on a first hearing. Se ela preguntar (If I should ask her) and Promessa have become standards of Brazilian popular music. Unlike the music of Gnatali, Gismonti or Pereira, Reis preferred the more traditional Brazilian guitar style, full of tenderness and with a singular rubato.

Better known for his modern virtuosic solo guitar Sambas and Chôros, Marta by Marco Pereira (b.1956) reveals an enchanting vulnerability with its folding half-step harmonies and progressions.

The exceptional pianist Horacio Salgán became one of the pioneers of the ‘New Tango’ during the 1960s. His music elevated traditional Tango to solo and chamber music repertoire. This arrangement of Don Agustín Bardi came from an old cassette recording which Jorge Morel transcribed by ear.

One of the outstanding singer/composers of the Tango’s early years, Angel Villoldo, composed his      El Choclo around 1903 in the restaurant where it was first played. Referred to as a Tango Criollo (Creole Tango), El Choclo became a classic and sold over 30,000 printed copies. My arrangement comes from a printed piano version of the original.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1957, the guitarist-composer Máximo Diego Pujol creates music that blends old and new with cosmopolitan elegance and exciting rhythmic urgency. His innate feel for the spirit of milonga can be heard in much of his music. The haunting sadness of the simple architecture of Stella australis contrasts with the complex and dynamic mood changes outlined in the Elegía por la muerte de un tanguero (Elegy for the Death of a Tanguero), a three-movement homage to Astor Piazzolla.

The admiration shown by Jorge Morel (b.1931) for traditional American jazz is evident in much of his solo guitar music and orchestral writing. His roots, however, are deeply embedded in the soul of milonga, and his knowledge of Argentinian and South American popular style is tastefully present through his arrangements and original compositions. Milonga del viento (Milonga of the Wind) evokes nostalgic images through the unique “wind-chime” effect of campanella fingerings on the guitar. 

In sharp contrast to Morel’s Milonga, the Uruguyan Abel Carlevaro’s Milonga oriental is a studied and driving bass-milonga with an Oriental flavour.

Evocative of Gershwin’s piano themes, Little Rhapsody is a player’s delight, complete with irresistible triple-meter themes, pseudo-jazz progressions and idiomatic guitar riffs. The more quietly flowing lines of the Danza in E minor take us back to a not-so-distant past of South America.

Un día de noviembre (One Day in November) became an instant hit with audiences and guitar enthusiasts around the world. With the exception of its simple and heartfelt lyricism, this gently rocking and evocative ballad is unlike most of Leo Brouwer’s (b.1939) contemporary and rhythmically complex music.

Ricardo Cobo

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