Chick Counterfly is unable to contribute to Choice Sides this week, so I’m flying the Millennium Falcon Han Solo style. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
My mom loves classical music. The usual suspects apply. She would play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 in B Flat Minor on vinyl and as a kid, a part of me did not to like this music because it lacked guitars with distortion. The ebb and flow waves of sound from string and horn instruments ran counter to the aggressive rock music I listened to exclusively. And there was no singing.
But in time, my opinion of instrumental music changed. I couldn’t wait for mom to play those albums over and over again. I just didn’t admit it to her. Because her appreciation rubbed off on me, in time I began to recognized the artistry of La Villa Strangiato and Orion. Songs that have been stupidly dismissed as mindless prog rock by the music intelligentsia.
Fast forward to 2005, I started to hearing about a duet who played acoustic guitar instrumental music and in 2006 found Rodrigo Y Gabriela and their self-titled debut album. Their style runs through various genres of blues, jazz, rock, Española, bossa nova and flamenco. As you can guess, their music is complex and without regret, playing a song with what some might consider Too Many Notes*.
Tamacun is the first track off their album. If this song is at all familiar to you, but don’t know where you heard it, that’s because it played as the introduction to Jesse Pinkman in pilot episode of Breaking Bad.
Rodrigo is the riff and solo part of the duo, while Gabriela has the more intricate part of attacking her guitar as percussionist, bassist and rhythm guitarist all in one. Its something to behold.
The story of how this duo came to be is that of all immigrants. And despite Mexicans typically accused of taking everything from Americans, they chose to find inspiration and recognition in the unknown. Rodrigo and Gabriela traveled far to find their artistic identity in that other music mecca of the world: Ireland.
They became well known as acoustic guitarists playing the festival scene throughout Europe until they landed a record deal with ATO Records.
Their first album is one great song after another, however I won’t delve into it with diarrhea of words in order to impress anyone with supposed knowledge. Instead, I’ll use excerpts from the liner notes of the CD booklet in which the two provide insight and inspiration for their music.
Tamacun - “In the early 80s, construction companies, along with the government of Guerrero, contributed to destroy their (wild-life species) natural habitat... But one man, Erroberto Piza, a.k.a Tamacun, takes care of them as if they were his children and they love him like he was their croc father... where they live sometimes collapses when heavy rain hits and they escape scaring the shit out of a few tourists just for the laugh... (Well, it’s not that bad.)”
Diablo Rojo - “Red Devil, the name of a rollercoaster in Copenhagen, Denmark. After 3 rides in a row, we got some blood back in our hands, came up with this.”
Ixtapa - “... When we left Mexico City, our band and everything else there, we decided acoustic guitars so all our gear from our band had to be sold to get some cash fro the non-return ticket (to Ixtapa) to survive as long as we could... Something really special about the recording of this track happened when Cory Lakatos (renowned violinist) liked our music and that he would be happy to appear as a special guest on the album.”
Stairway To Heaven is the song you’re thinking it is. “... a t.v. performance by Stanley Jordan, amazing as usual. It was old footage, maybe late 80s, but what attracted us most, apart from his unique way of playing guitar, was his version of ‘Stairway To Heaven’, very jazzy indeed, but fantastically played.”
Orion is also a song they cover on this album. “... But what happened was exactly opposite, we were losing money and getting sicker every day of this city with a population of 25 million. This version of Metallica’s ‘Orion” is a tribute to the style of music we love and it’s what kept us playing the guitar...”
Nine songs in all, played without one word uttered, either sung or spoken. Not even a syllable from somewhere in the background during recording.
Instrumental music is very much a genre for the more considerate music lover. This type of music lacks the main ingredient which most people want in their music: The Singer. Most people cannot play the _____, but they can easily join with the words. Even if one can’t sing to save his life, you can still verbalize the lyrics and thereby a part of the song. If you take that away, most people will feel a kind of disconnect from music. Not to mention that if said music is not made specifically for dancing, people don’t see a point to listening to instrumental music.
Instrumental music relies on the creativity and artistry of the musician to fabricate a song through the voices that are not vocal. To this day, Rodrigo and Gabriela have not used a singer in their music, and hopefully they will continue to forge on this path less traveled because it takes a unique kind of artist (along with the listener) to believe and love the instrumental song.
* This is second in my series-within-a-series entitled Too Many Notes. Taken from the movie Amadeus, the king of Austria enjoyed Mozart’s latest work, but in order to be perceived as being all knowing, he had to find something to criticize in the play, though not able to find any negatives, the king turned to a lackey for meaning, to which the lackey uttered the laziest, most unimaginative of music critic’s observation, “Too many notes, Sire.”
That’s it for this week. Tune in next week when as the question posed is: Pubic hair, shaved or unshaved?