Sol y Canto
Sol y Canto brought the warm equatorial flavor of its brand of Cuban-Afro-Latin folk music to the National Geographic on Wednesday evening. The group draws mainly on the folk rhythms of the Caribbean and South America.
A few of the songs were written by musical director and guitarist Brian Amador, who also composed music for lyrics by various Latino poets.
The more traditional tunes paint pictures of work in sugar cane fields, dancing and loving after the sun goes down, the laments of separated lovers and farmers blessed by the full moon. A pastoral and spiritual tonal quality in the lyrics and harmonies gives the music deeper import than the group's cheery stage presence might suggest.
Early in the program, percussionist Renato Thoms telegraphed his independent rhythmic style during "Azucar de Cana" by using the wooden box he was sitting on as a muted drum. Bassist Carlos del Pino worked an unusual stripped-down electric bass resembling a Chapman Stick. Alan del Castillo's tenor voice fits well with lead vocalist Rosie Amador's mezzo-soprano, creating romantic harmonies without the schmaltz in Latin chestnuts such as "Quiereme mucho." In the tradition of activist folk singing, "Evolucion o Revolucion?" a ballad about evangelical fanaticism and buying faith, featured Jon M. Weeks on flute and composer Amador's rousing guitar.
The program wrapped with a 15-minute version of "El Cuarto de Tula" from the Buena Vista Social Club repertoire, showcasing each musician.
--L. Peat O'Neil
Bill Frisell's New Quartet
Like a drop of mercury on a plate of glass, the music performed by Bill Frisell's New Quartet at the Wolf Trap Barns Thursday night was slippery stuff. Many of the pop reference points were familiar--jazz improvisation, blues riffs, folk themes, country textures and funk shuffles--but the music flowed freely, untethered to a specific genre or sound.
As always, Frisell didn't make playing the guitar look easy. He frequently tinkered with a digital delay box that sampled and looped his guitar lines. The device mostly added an additional voice to the ensemble, but on some pieces it also created a wash of orchestral colors or a series of whimsical effects. Yet even when Frisell's attention was entirely focused on the fretboard, he brought a quiet intensity to the performance.
The folk ballad "Shenandoah" was typical of the evening's rustic pleasures, though it eventually took on a fierce bluesy edge, while "Cadillac" cruised along in a relaxed funk groove and demonstrated the comfortable rapport Frisell has developed with his band mates--drummer Kenny Wollesen, bassist David Piltch and dobro/lap steel guitarist Greg Leisz. With the rhythm section maintaining a loose but focused sound, Frisell and Leisz frequently took turns creating melodies that lingered in the air and in the memory.