While attending the Osaka University of Foreign Studies in the early part of the 1990s, guitarist Hiroya Tsukamoto
developed a fancy for South American music, namely the Nueva Canción movement of Victor Jara (a fatality of Pinochet’s US-sponsored military coup in 1973) and Violeta Parra. He soon formed a likeminded jazz group called Playa Azul and went out on the road. A few years later he was chosen to perform with Voces del Sur as the group toured across Japan.
In this increasingly interconnected world of ours, a musician smitten by the music of a culture other than his own no longer seems so unique or charmingly eccentric as it once might have. Still, Tsukamoto’s devotion to South American music is more keen than most. In 2000 it drew him to pursue further education at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he has since teamed up with others who share his interest.
Interoceánico is Tsukamoto’s newest project, an eight-strong outfit which came together during his stint at Berklee. The Other Side of the World is the group’s first album. For the mood-setting opener, “Voces de la Sierra,” vocalists Marta Gómez and Alejandra Ortiz seem content to dwell in carefree, spontaneous morphemes, surfing Tsukamoto’s sunny, octopoidal acoustic guitar picking and the assertive piano of Andrew Kim; but then the track collapses into an unnerving, atonal piano solo, climbing after a time back to its grassy plateau of rainbows and singing birds. The combined effect is enchanting.
A more distinct Latin flavor pervades the following track, “Vistas del Pasado,” more than likely due to Gómez’s lyrics (in Spanish, of course) and the inclusion of Dan Brantigan’s mariachi-like flugelhorn. The music here, as on so much of The Other Side of the World, is straightforward. Only occasionally does it hint at hidden complexities. Tsukamoto’s subdued guitar intro is the longest focus on a single instrument. The central development section plays with the melody but doesn’t aim for individual fireworks. In other words, this is very much a unified effort, and it results in a more reserved and traditional song format. The album’s next instrumentals—“What We Have Lost,” “Something Reminds Me of You”—stylistically have much in common with the opener (Gómez’s and Ortiz’s sung morphemes again), but they are slightly more exploratory.
Swaying forward on a funkified samba rhythm, “Sceneries” may qualify as the most exotic track on the disc, if only because it is sung in Tsukamoto’s native Japanese. The final track, the bittersweet “Summerville,” brings The Other Side of the World to a solemn close, carried to its conclusion by Brantigan’s fluid, though occasionally feeble, flugelhorn solo, and Gómez quietly insisting: “Soñaré este lugar cuando vuelvo al mundo real” (“I will dream of this place when I return to the real world”). And so, too, will we continue to dream in soft focus of this tranquil, modest debut when faced with the harsher world outside.
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