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Very few contemporary musicians imbue Impressionism in the truly classical sense of the term. And of those who do qualify, fewer still play the guitar. Ralph Towner does come to mind and his is a living legacy and tribute to this enduring movement. Egberto Gismontiespecially with his masterpiece Musica de Sobrevivencia (ECM, 1993)is probably the epitome of all that is memorable about Impressionism in music. Bruce Dunlap also hit the spot with About Home (Chesky Records, 1990), which used tonal color so vividly that the musical notes felt like wet paint. And now there is this young man, Diego Barber, whose sensibilities swirl around in giant arcs encircling eons of musical tradition. This certainly includes the legacy of Bach as it collides with modern Impressionism. And then his music curves through Andalusia, Cordoba, the Canary Islands, Francophone North Africa, the Middle East, and God knows if there was a whole planet of exquisite impressionist art, then Diego Barber would embody all of it.
His debut album, Calima, is a spiritual journey on the wings of music. And it takes the artist on a sweeping expedition from the town of his birth on the Canary Islands through Europe and its ages of music from Bach to now. Coming from the Canary Islands in the mid-Atlantic means that the great cultures of Europe and Africa must have exploded in bursts of sun and stars at every turn. In a career that spans a few decades but traverses Austria and the West Coast of the US, Barber appears to have soaked in the sounds of the air that rushes in the inner ear of every astute musician. And he certainly heard well. His fingers are like a myriad tentacles as they caress the strings sometimes gliding and at other times skittering across the fret board of his classical guitar as he paints extraordinary pictures of countryside alive with curiosity in "Lanzarote," apparently a semi-rural town where he was born and then of the hot and enormous layer of air that sweeps across the Northern Sahara and into the Atlantic. The phenomenal heat comes brilliantly alive in "Desierto". His music here could describe the earth and the galaxy, so unforgettably vivid is it.
Barber is not alone in this musical expedition. He is accompanied during this session by the masterful percussion colorist, Jeff Ballard, who rattles the skins, punctuated by various brassy splashesespecially on "Piru and "190 East." The deep growl of Larry Grenadier's bass adds a bright and dark-toned harmonic bottom to the sometimes-ghostly atmosphere, as in "Air." And, of course, the wild and wonderful tenor saxophone of Mark Turner delights throughout. Diego Barber has succeeded here in creating a breathtaking musical palette, painting his way through an unforgettable, Brueghel-like journeybut this time from Africa, through Spain and the Mediterranean and then across the Atlantic to Pacific America.