I have been fortunate to see many great artists perform live, several of whom have sadly left us since that time. Thirty years ago I attended a concert of the trio John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola and Paco de Lucia performing ‘flamenco fusion’ on acoustic guitars from their ‘Passion, Grace and Fire’ recording. A few years later I was lucky to see a performance featuring jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, who was part of the legendary ‘Hot Club of France’ recordings with Django Reinhardt. Their music was a sort of ‘gypsy swing fusion’ blending jazz and a variety of folks and european music into an amazing mosaic.
Why do I mention these specific bits of music? As I listened to Asgeir & Mo’s CD ‘Danza de Andalucia’, I was immediately reminded of both of those shows, and of the artists and the other recordings they made. That is not to call this recording derivative at all – simply that this blend of musical styles and the prominence of guitar and violin on the recording was evocative of the gorgeous recordings by those other legends of the genres.
But enough of history and genres, let’s take a look at the music!
Summary: This album features guitarist Asgeir Aaroen and violinist Bjarte Mo, along with Magnus Rod Haugland on bass, Eddie Andresen on percussion, Saska Cvijanovic on flutes, Noelia Sabarea on dance and castanets, and Aina Schold on vocals. Asgeir composed all of the songs, which range from hardcore Latin fusion to sweet and airy pop tunes and everything in-between.
The easy label for this is ‘world music’, but to me that is a generic term for when you really don’t know what to call the music. There are certainly flamenco elements, Latin music, European-styled jazz, pop and rock overtones, even classical and dance elements on occasion.
The opening song ‘Summer Flirt’ immediately evoked the combination of the Paco de Lucia guitar trio and the Reinhardt/Grappelli bands. It is fast paces, has a strong Latin feel and flamenco guitar work as well as soaring violin counterpoint. It shows that the pair are virtuosi without falling into the trap of simply duelling to see who can outgun the other (to be fair, some of the Passion Grace and Fire songs were pretty much built around that concept so it isn’t so bad).
Immediately we transition into ‘Arabian Samba’, another up-tempo latin song, but this time evoking more of the gypsy feel than straight flamenco. At the same time, the song structure comes more from the jazz tradition of theme-improve-theme-out, and every moment of it is deliciously rewarding. Whereas Asgeir dominated the first song, I loved how everything wraps around Mo’s lines in this song before opening up to let Asgeir and Mo trade some spirited soloing and a unison section to close out the song. After this we need a rest – and that is what happens.
‘Your Hands in Mine’ follows, and I suggest you check out the video to see just how gorgeous this music can be – the melodies in this song get into your heart and head and are lush and loving. When it drops to guitar only the song feels introspective, then when Mo joins it feels like a touching conversation. Once again the core structure is well hidden as the leads weave in and out – I can’t overstate how well Asgeir has worked to make music that feels at once through-composed and open.
Another thing worth mentioning is how I called this ‘dance music’ – I don’t mean this like my son’s love of Skrillex, but rather the use of samba and other Latin dance rhythms in all of the songs such as the next gorgeous mid-tempo piece ‘Night in Netanya’. At first I had no clue about someone listed as playing ‘dance and castanets’, but as you listen and hear the obvious taps in the background of songs such as the title track, you will understand.
Asgeir takes us on a musical adventure with ‘Walkabout’, a picturesque soundscape that shifts moods and themes and could easily fit into a soundtrack. There are intense parts, whimsical moments, and much more – all executed to perfection. From there we take a quick trip ‘On the Beach’, before landing on the title track, which as I mentioned is very much a dance piece.
Yet while ‘Andalucian Dance’ has dance elements, the opening is again atmospheric and evocative before we kick into gear with the heaviest bass contribution of the album and settle into a groove without losing the identity of the opening. Before long things have really wound up and your body is moving without even realizing how much the intensity has increased.
The remainder of the songs continue apace, with ‘Tango’ presenting a frenetic and joyous dance and improvisation, ‘Memories of Enerhaug’ charting a somber and reflective string-backed duet between Asgeir and Mo that touching and dramatic. ‘Cry from the Andes’ is a wonderfully playful and dramatic piece that effectively uses the flute and strummed guitar along with violin to create a vision of the world from the Andes before settling into what feels like a folk song from a small village that tells its history and traditions.
‘Towards Midnight’ is another solid mid-pace song, and ‘Stroll Along the River’ presents another showpiece for Asgeir’s melody-writing skills and the sympathetic back-and-forth between guitar and violin.
‘Summer Song’ is a brilliant close to the album, and the sole track with vocals. The opening melody presented by Asgeir is gorgeous, but is soon superseded by Aina’s vocals. Since I tend to prefer non-vocal music, having the song in Norwegian allows me to focus on the building themes and the gorgeous arrangement and production.
Choice Track (and why): ‘Summer Flirt’ – I put this to a vote, because I struggled between this and ‘Summer Song’. And in the end, it was two votes for this and one for ‘Summer Song’ (my wife) and one for ‘Andalucian Dance’. I know why I favor this one – it goes back to the beginning of the review, where I reference Paco de Lucia and Stephan Grappelli. This song evokes those musical moments better than any other, yet it also shows the individuality, compositional skills and interplay present in such quantities throughout the album.
You Might Love This If: You love flamenco, latin jazz, or just beautiful acoustic music. This album has seen a fair amount of play with my family – it is something everyone can enjoy and doesn’t interfere too much due to the acoustic instrumentation.
Here is a video of Asgeir & Mo playing ‘Dine hender i mine (Yours hands in mine hands)’:
Where to Buy: Amazon.com has the MP3 album for $8.99
From the moment I first put this on I have enjoyed listening to it straight through several times – and in fact it made me bring out other recordings and put them back on my iPod. I always take that as a great sign that music is making me think and truly engaging me. My kids remarked how at first it felt like background music, but then they each realized how much was going on and the complexity and beauty of the structures.
My wife fell in love with ‘Summer Song’ and even pulled out the liner notes to check the lyrics … and was disappointed that they were in Norwegian there as well.
This is not a recording you will hear about in general listening, but I highly recommend at least checking out the video of the group playing and perhaps the samples on Amazon MP3. This is really good music played by excellent musicians and was a wonderful surprise for me.
Until next time, enjoy the great joys of whatever music you love!