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(76:50, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Naufrago 36:34 2. Libertad 9:01 3. Blue 11:30 4. Thoughts 19.45 LINEUP: Raimundo Rodulfo – vocals; ac. & el. guitars, bass; synthesizer Yoel Del Sol – percussion Gerardo Ubieda – drums Anna Ventura – violin Mariana Carreras – violin Konstantin Litvinenko – cello Osvaldo Fleites – trumpets, flugelhorn Franklin Diaz – flutes, saxophones, clarinet With: Richard Marichal – keyboards (3, 4, 5) Carlos Plaza – keyboards (1, 2) Pedro Castillo – vocals (2, 4) Cristo Aguado – vocals (1) Minerva Owen – vocals (1)
Prolusion. Raimundo RODULFO is a classically-trained multi-instrumentalist from Venezuela, though currently based in Florida (USA). He started his musical career at the age of 7 by joining the Children’s Symphonic Orchestra as a violinist. After having been a member of various bands, in 1992 he embarked on a solo career, though all of his albums were released in the 2000’s. “Mare Et Terra” is his third release, conceived and recorded during a four-year span (starting in 2004) with the help of a number of guest musicians, including fellow Venezuelans Gerardo Ubieda and Pedro Castillo of Tempano, and keyboardist Carlos Plaza from Spanish outfit Kotebel.
Analysis. Raimundo Rodulfo is one of those musicians who proudly sports his origins in his musical output. “Mare Et Terra” is a prog album as only a South American musician could have produced: extremely ambitious, both in concept and length, but never convoluted or overblown, and drenched in melody. Moreover, unlike so many albums released in recent years, it is a disc brimming with the simple joy of making music. Firmly entrenched in the classic tradition of Latin American symphonic prog, “Mare Et Terra” shares all the distinctive features of this subgenre within a subgenre. The penchant for authentically symphonic, almost orchestral textures is there, as witnessed by the impressive array of guest musicians supplementing Rodulfo’s equally impressive skills. Those who have heard Rodulfo’s contribution to Dante’s Inferno (included in CD 4 of the project) will recognize some of the trademarks of the artist’s style. However, in spite of their epic length (the shortest item, Libertad, approaches 10 minutes), the tracks featured on “Mare Et Terra” are surely more restrained than that slightly over-the-top offering. In any case, this is an album that demands some dedication on the part of the listener. The music, while not overly complex in the cerebral way typical of Avant-Prog or the more experimental fringes of prog-metal, still contains enough twists and turns to require some intensive listening sessions. The album opens with a veritable bang – the 36-minute Naufrago (Shipwrecked), a concentrate of all the distinguishing features of Rodulfo’s inspiration. In time-honoured, symphonic prog tradition, it is a massive undertaking with a truly epic sweep, though thankfully not as blatantly pretentious as ‘epics’ are all too prone to being. In the first six minutes or so, Rodulfo treats us to a display of his considerable skills as a classical guitarist. The track develops slowly, at first with an almost loose feel, with the instruments entering gradually, almost tentatively, but keeping a strong melodic line in place; the trumpet inserts can bring to mind Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti-western soundtracks. There are enough time signature changes to keep the listener on their toes, though without giving that impression of patchiness that all too often mars compositions of similar scope. Rodulfo’s classical guitar acts as the thread holding the various sections together, while the clear flamenco inspiration is strengthened by the vocal parts, often sung by a male and a female voice in typical Hispanic style. Strings and a full horn section lend a grandiose, orchestral feel to some of the sections; while towards the end the rock imprint becomes more dominant, with thundering, Emerson-like keyboards and a frantic guitar solo. A real tour de force, and a successful one – almost against all odds. In contrast, the second item on the “Mare” side, Libertad (Freedom), is also the shortest and most accessible track on the album. Its upbeat, somewhat poppy melody, strongly Latin in inspiration, is enhanced by lively percussion, with an infectious chorus celebrating the joy of freedom. The instrumental Blue shows instead some evident jazz influences, though tempered by the all-pervasive Latin flavour, alternating bursts of energy with lazier, mellower parts in which the instruments all get their chance to shine. Sax and trumpet play quite a relevant role, and the lively, guitar-led section in the second half of the track distinctly brings to mind Santana’s early output. On an album that, while not overtly folksy, possesses such a strong ethnic characterization, the presence of English vocals in the last track, Thoughts, may come across as somewhat jarring. The song itself, a two-part epic approaching 20 minutes in length, while as impeccably performed as the rest of the album, does not stand out equally well, and could have done with some editing. It is also more reminiscent of the classic English bands of the Seventies (Genesis above all) than of the distinctive sound of the South American school. The most intriguing section (occurring in the second part, Moments) shows clear reggae influences, underpinned by whistling synths somehow harking back to the Eighties. Thoughts is also the rockiest item on the album, with a stronger contribution on the part of the electric guitar and some solid, chunky bass work. On the whole, “Mare Et Terra” is a very solid, finely-crafted album, though, in my view, a somewhat shorter running time would not have hurt it at all. A special mention should also go to the cheerful, colourful artwork (painted by Peter Rodulfo and designed by Davide Guidoni, a prolific Italian graphic artist and musician), which is the perfect complement to the album’s open, optimistic nature.
Conclusion. A sumptuous slice of old-school, proudly Latin-flavoured progressive rock, “Mare Et Terra” will surely delight lovers of vintage symphonic prog, as well as those who appreciate ethnic influences in their music. Definitely one of the most accomplished albums of 2009, even if a tad overlong and not likely to appeal to fans of minimalism.
RB=Raffaella Berry: Feb 6, 2010
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