This article is adapted from AQ’s latest issue on Latin America’s anti-corruption movement.
A Guatemalan cellist making eerie electronica, a Uruguayan pianist who defies classical convention, and a Cuban funk performer charting his own course to stardom. AQ’s summer playlist includes plenty of surprises.
Gustavo Casenave – Balance
Uruguayan pianist and composer Gustavo Casenave has always been a brave musician, and his latest album, Balance, is no exception: More than 50 minutes of solo piano with no conventional melodies, playing with listeners’ expectations from start to finish. The title track, which opens the album, is composed in the time-tested fast-slow-fast form. But instead of a reiteration of the first section at the end, Casenave closes with three distinct pieces, achieving an unsettled balance through texture and energy. From the start, the album draws attention to Casenave’s torrential virtuosity, tempered by a keen sense of restraint and formal focus. Balance incorporates an arresting mix of influences, from Bach to bebop to various forms of tango. Descriptive titles like “Noble,” “Total” and “Moral” capture the overall feel of each piece, adding to the enjoyment of a journey through this gifted composer’s musical world.
Cimafunk – Terapia
Publicity materials call Cimafunk a “Cuban James Brown.” But the comparison, while spot-on for overall cool and uninhibited sensual energy, misses the obsessively intricate fabric of the Pinar del Río-born singer/songwriter’s musical arrangements. Every sound is put in its proper place, and performed with precise intention. At a recent live show in New York City, he and his band showed they can be as exact and meticulous onstage as they are in the studio. The singer’s version of funk, in truly Caribbean fashion, is rich in disparate influences, from Afro-Cuban rhythms to Spaghetti Western soundtracks to hints of bolero-like romance. The lyrics, frequently delivered as ritual incantations, speak mostly of sex and food, with the occasional suggestion of political rebelliousness despite Cimafunk’s stated desire to stay clear of politics.
Mabe Fratti – Pies sobre la tierra
Cello isn’t the typical instrument for a singer/songwriter, but Guatemalan artist Mabe Fratti provides a welcome exception. In Pies sobre la tierra (Feet on the Ground), her second album and first on Mexico City-based experimental label Hole Records, Fratti moves with grace between eerie soundscapes and jewel-like songs that accentuate her cello playing, subtle vocals and understated electronics. In the album’s first single, “Todo lo que querías saber” (Everything You Wanted to Know), Fratti’s delicate voice lays over a gentle cello ostinato and elusive electronic sounds, sharing the spotlight with an intense cello solo that is downright head-banging by comparison. Her lyrics talk about finding and keeping connections, while the album’s interchange between ambient moods and prominent melodies is surprisingly satisfying. Fratti’s cello writing is occasionally unconventional, lyric and percussive, while her voice is genuine — both are worth listening to.
Zubieta is director of the music program at Americas Society