When young, I wasn't the only one with an affection for Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and an LP or two of theirs sat alongside copies of the Dave Clark Five and the Who. There was something to the music beyond its south of the border exoticness that appealed. As time went on, that waned, especially when subjected to a lot of bad knock-offs, not to mention mediocre ranchero music via the graces of Saturday night cruisers and lowriders. But along came the discovery of Tarrega, Albeniz, Villa-Lobos, and others, renewing faith in the intelligence and artfulness of the border soul. That faded too.
Ah, but then Bonfa, Gil, and the bossa nova / samba crowd, infinitely cool, passed through the ears, exceedingly attractive, oh-so-mellow, but time passed. One day, a very hip clerk at PlatterPuss records started turning me on to Egberto Gismonti, Hermeto Pascoal, and others. Later, Astor Piazzolla popped up. And so it went in fits and starts. Now, the Meridan Arts Ensemble has tackled the, for lack of a better term, Latin dimension, and the result couldn't possibly be more appealing. Rounding up some of the aforementioned (Pascoal, Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla) along with Caetano Veloso and others, the horns + drums sextet here serves up the last word in interpretation and arrangements on some sublimely intelligent pieces.
Ocho Por Radio is a drunken sangria ramble that subsides into a Britten-ish neoclassical middle segment rich with understated nuance, then rebounds into an ever more zesty recommencement of the opening. Yes, it is steeped in provincial soil but there's also, as the liner writer Danel Grabois (MAE member) notes, Stravinsky. Silvestre Revueltas wrote the piece in the 30s, but it sounds as though penned yesterday at a particularly hip conservatory.
Some will know Veloso as a pop/jazz/bossa/rock fusioneer, a singer-guitarist who gained international attention. Not too many cognize, though, that he was a fervent Leftist and courted the wrath of the Brazilian establishment; thus: bravo! On Timbrando, the MAE chose his tributary Michelangelo Antonioni, after the Italian film director (who passed away as the Ensemble was releasing the disc), for its unusually somber but seductive strains, a coolly yearning lounge number. Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 (Prelude) and No. 5 (Aria) are an arresting blend of exactly what's intoned: classicalist European stuctures married to nativist tradition. Originally for cellos and voice, the MAE gives it new life and a more interesting wardrobe in brass, not all that unlike what the MJQ would've done decades ago. Ana Lara's En Par de los Levantes de la Aurora is pure neoclassicalism written by a woman transcribing and transmuting the night, early morning birdsong, and climate in a powerful opus, a 9:13 exercise in painting a stark emotional landscape against ebon inks and grey folds. As moody as an El Greco canvas, the piece is a slow wakening of the world, the daily return from dark and death until the sun finally conquers all and ends the composition.
There's a good deal more here, and a review can only accomplish just so much. The music and its unorthodox executions amid technical perfection cry out for someone to please institute a new-classicalist radio venue that will showcase important recitals like the Meridian Art Ensemble's, rescuing us from the banality of the "alternative" fare of so-called progressive stations and their vacuous hosts. 50 years from now, this music will be just as fresh as it is today, but, unless a push is made to uplevel the state of radio, who's going to know?
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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