Sheer guitar heaven, a meeting of minds from all sides of the Western musical experience. Manuel Barrueco is a globally acclaimed classical guitarist who specializes in Spanish musics but has also explored Bach, Toru Takemitsu and Arvo Pärt over the past 25 years. This disc pairs him with three guitarists most familiar to fusion fans: Al Di Meola, Steve Morse (of Deep Purple and Dixie Dregs), and Andy Summers (ex-Police). Barrueco is polite enough to not hog the spotlight while in such illustrious company, though he can certainly hold his own in the fray.
Di Meola’s technique is the closest to Barrueco’s own flamenco-seasoned style, and the two of them weave rich, almost gaudy tapestries on three of Di Meola’s compositions. The vital bass lines of “Beyond the Mirage” are particularly well-executed, and Di Meola’s lightning-fast chops have not diminished with time. On these dual-acoustic tracks it’s occasionally difficult to tell which man is playing. Some indication of channel separation would help in that regard, but that’s a minor quibble. “Azzurra” is fragile as lace, and “The Grand Passion” translates incredibly well to the duo format (compared to Di Meola’s recent large-band rendition with his World Sinfonia). It’s now Barrueco’s turn to spin the lush brocades of acoustic splendor while Di Meola cranks up the electric for this too-short selection.
Steve Morse’s turn in the duo chair begins with “Wolvesville” (a translation of Villa-Lobos’ name), which is a beautiful, delicate improvisation on the Spanish composer’s Etude No. 1. Morse selects a pretty electric tone which in the background of that track and “Cavatina” (the theme from The Deer Hunter ) but emerges more fully on “Without Sunglasses”. Morse’s “Up in the Air” is the big chops-fest for this duet, though it’s still more light-hearted than the Di Meola material.
Andy Summers is perhaps the most avant-garde, exotic partner of the three, and as such the tracks with Summers contain the most unusual textures here. These are equally entertaining and grounded, and Barrueco is pushed in yet another different direction. The classical genius seems to thrive on the musical adventurousness of these partnerships, refreshing for a performer of such traditional roots. He’s probably never played anything like “Crow at Midnight” before!
The disc begins and ends with solo Barrueco, first on the shimmering “Odeon” and finally on Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo”, in which he translates an entire orchestral work into a masterpiece of solo guitar humor and technical brilliance. In many ways Nylon & Steel is worlds ahead of the famed trio discs by Di Meola, Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin. Absolutely essential for acoustic guitar aficionados and fans of Barrueco’s partners in crime.