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Antonio Valdes & Marana (Spain) - 2002 - "De Ojos Como Zarzas"
(61 min, "Great Winds", a division of Musea Records)

1. Mejorana 7:20
2. Campanano 6:03
3. Teje-Maneje 5:02
4. El Aljibe 6:47
5. Complete-Mandingue 8:23
6. Copla (0:51)
7. Ximbomba 5:51
8. Aquelarre 4:34
9. Por no Quirer 5:02
10. Hommage au Mage 8:16
11. Orroppe pa Manan 4:00

All compositions by A. Valdes,
except 10 by Troisi & Cascino.
Arranged by Marana & A. Valdes. 


Antonio Valdes - saxophone & clarinet; lute 
Philippe Troisi - acoustic guitar
Lilian Bencini - contrabass
Jean-Luc Difraja - drums 
Moustapha-II Ourah - percussion 
Pepe Linares - voice (on a few tracks)

Recorded & mixed by Philippe Trossi
at "Napolitain" studio.
Produced by Corazon Caliente.

Prologue. This is my first acquaintance with the music of Antonio Valdes, though, it is quite possible that "De Ojos Como Zarzas" is his debut album. Since it was released by Musea's sub-label "Great Winds", it should be about Jazz-Fusion or Jazz-Rock, etc. Though, of course, I can't guess whether it is of a Classic or Neo category of the genre.

The Album. I love the symmetry, and "De Ojos Como Zarzas" is a very symmetrical album in some ways (no, in fact, I think that it is in many ways symmetrical, though I'll return to this matter a bit later). And now I have to report to you about the stylistics of this album. Remember Santana? Some remote associations with the best works (read: most progressive) by him can visit your brain while you listen to "De Ojos Como Zarzas". However, after listening to it, you will most likely forget of Carlos's music. A unique, acoustic, colorful, complex, masterful, diverse, expressive, impressive, intriguing, just wonderful Classic Jazz-Fusion of a clearly Spanish origin and definitely progressive nature is what the music on this album is, overall, about. As most of you dear readers know, in my conception the term Jazz-Fusion means a real fusion (or confluence) of Jazz-Rock and any of the traditionally progressive genres. In the case of this album, such a genre is Classic Art-Rock, which, though, is not that symphonic, as most of the Art-Rock textures are here based on passages and solos of acoustic guitars (no electric instruments on this album!). Back to the symmetry, on this album, the tracks where the arrangements in the vein of Art-Rock dominate those that are clearly about Jazz-Rock pronouncedly alternate with those tracks where the composed and real improvisations dominate symphonic-like solos. Respectively, these would've been the even and odd tracks throughout "De Ojos Como Zarzas", if only the only useless song on the album, the 50-seconds Copla (6), would have not disturbed that amazing balance, after which everything got entangled. OK, let's try to systematize a broken symmetry without that philological sophistry. Mejorana, Teje-Maneje, Complete-Mandingue, Aquelarre, & Hommage au Mage (1, 3, 5, 8, & 10) are about Jazz-Rock with a lot of elements of Art-Rock, and Campanano, El Aljibe, Ximbomba, Por no Quirer, & Orroppe pa Manan (2, 4, 7, 9, & 11) are about Art-Rock with many of the elements of Jazz-Rock. And all of these ten tracks, without exceptions, are filled with distinctly Spanish flavors. Greatly diverse, virtuosi, and, most often, very contrasting (first of all, in tempo) interplay between solos and passages of acoustic guitars and solos of sax, clarinet, and bass guitar are typical for seven out of these ten compositions (tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, & 10). The same description is applicable for tracks 4 & 6, though there is the lute instead of both of sax and clarinet. All of this most often rushes to the accompaniment of either the parts of drums or hand percussion (including maracas) with the frequent use of complex time signatures and, sometimes, kaleidoscopic changes of tone and tempo (a mood is always just Spanish here). Also, practically on each track on the album, the band use very original and complex stop-to-play movements where two musicians perform their parts in fourth and fifth, and the others play different solos. The band's joint performance and the musicianship of each of the five members of it are by all means top-notch. Almost all the compositions and arrangements that are present on the album are excellently thought out; they're thoughtful, tasteful, and highly complex. Only Companano and Por no Quirer (tracks 2 & 9) are of a moderate complexity. By the way, each of these two pieces, as well as Al Aljibe and Hommage au Mage (4 & 10), contains a couple of the brief parts of vocal in Spanish, most of which were sung by the guest singer Pepe Linares, who, in fact, is a real star in Spain. Yes, Copla (6), the stub that my symmetric vision of this album got struck on, was also sung by Pepe, and the only instrument that accompanied his singing here is… the drum set. As you see, this 50-seconds Copla is a completely wooden track. Did Antonio realize what he does when including it in this 60-minute masterpiece?

Summary. I am almost sure that "De Ojos Como Zarzas" will remain my favorite Jazz-Fusion album of this year. It is better than even "Progressivity", - the latest album by Tunnels (read: Brand X, as that album was crafted by all four of the members of this legendary band's latest line-up). So I doubt that during the last three months of the year, the number of which consists of two twos (-too-to-tooth sounds smooth!) and two zeroes, would appear some heroes whose Jazz-Fusion would be better than that by Antonio Valdes. Alas, currently, Jazz-Fusion is probably the most stagnant of the Three of Progressive's classic genres (here, I also imply Art-Rock and Prog-Metal, of course).

VM. September 9, 2002

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