When classical performers tackle material from the jazz world, the result can often be something less than one would hope for. The more stringent and what some might call restricted range of interpretation leave little room for overt improvisation. Instead it's all about subtlety, dynamics and delicate phrasing. Consequently, all too often, when a classical player approaches jazz material, the interpretation sounds stiff and unmoving.
Not so with Carlos Barbosa-Lima, who has studied with, amongst others, Andres Segovia; but in his forty-year career has recorded everyone from Cole Porter to Scott Joplin and Antonio Carlos Jobim. His touch is sure, and his nuanced approach brings life to whomever he decides to cover. On his latest record, Frenesi , his subject is the music of Latin America, with pieces ranging from the bossa of Jobim to the more 20th Century new music of Leo Brouwer.
The programme, taken as a whole, has a certain austerity, and feels almost like a concert recital, but the clear joy in songs like Isaias Savio's "Batucada" brings levity to the set that is infectious and moving. The title track and Alvero Dalmar's "Sigo Pensando En Ti" are rife with tenderness and rich humanity, while Amable Torres' "La Reina" and Agustin Lara's "Maria Bonita" are light and playful.
Interpreting the material solo as well as in duet, trio and quartet contexts, Barbosa-Lima creates a textural diversity that broadens the spectrum of the set and also leaves some room for more direct improvisation by bassist John Benitez, who contributes both a solid rhythmic anchor and lyrical solos to "Maria Bonita," "Chega de Saudade," "Frenesi" and "Adios." Gustavo Colina plays cuatro, a Venezuelan four-string guitar, on a number of tracks, while percussionist Edgardo Aponte brings a percussive pulse to select pieces.
While fans of more obvious improvisation may be disappointed with the somewhat rigid confines of Frenesi , the truth is that Barbosa-Lima demonstrates that there is more to interpretation than extemporizing on a given piece. More subtle interpretation has its own rewards, and Barbosa-Lima is clearly a performer who understands the deeper truth in his chosen materialand brings it out with elegance, delicacy and grace.
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Personnel: Carlos Barbosa-Lima (guitar), Gustavo Colina (cuatro on selected tracks), John Benitez (acoustic bass on selected tracks), Edgardo Aponte (maracas, bongos, rainstick, cow bells on selected tracks)