Cubamenco: Robert Michael


By Classical Editor and Jazz contributor, Rob Tomaro

Roll Over Beethoven: Finding the new Mojo in music

The new mojo (the magic touch, the new meaning) can be found in the work of artists who are trying to break through cultural boundaries to create a new form, a real World Music, who harvest the best that world culture offers in search of something not heard before.

Canadian guitarist Robert Michaels does that on his new CD "Cubamenco", a word he's coined to describe a blend of Cuban and Flamenco music. Cuban music, which has enjoyed a new prominence since the release of the documentary ‘the Buena Vista Social Club,’ is culled from several streams of Latin American folk music. Flamenco, the Spanish gypsy dance form, is laced with the haunting minor modes of the Moors, who swept up from Morocco into Spain in the ninth century. The confluence of these two traditions gives rise to a new, fertile sound.

The ten original pieces offered here take shape around the playing of the composer, which draws you in to its own world. There is something compelling about fingers plucking the classic guitar. They can literally tug on your heartstrings, casting a spell, whispering things into your ear that are best heard at four in the morning.

Michaels' playing is, at turns, tender and vibrant, sensuous and magisterial. His solos, which blend spontaneity with a sure sense of direction, resonate with the influence of the Andalusian "flamencos" like Paco de Lucia and the Latin masters of the cuatro, an indigenous cousin of the guitar.

The studio ensemble is stellar. Mayito Delmonte's percussion is crisp and never intrusive. Bassists Juan Pablo Dominguez and Yoser Rodriguez lay down a backdrop so full that one does not miss the piano, which is wisely left out of this recording, creating a tonal space filled with a panoply of new colors.
Eric Soosat's cameo appearance on the fretless bass on "Zumba" reminds us of that much-missed master of this style, Jaco Pastorius.

Each track has its own charm, but perhaps my favorites are "Remedios Para El Alma" and the title track. Showcasing the solo guitar, they achieve a balance of harmony and rhythm while allowing a strong melodic line to come to the fore.

“Cubamenco” gets four out of five stars, and is a happy addition to the growing body of work that comprises the new Mojo in music.