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Pirai Vaca At Americas Society, NYC

Ernest Barteldes By

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Pirai Vaca
Americas Society
New York, New York
December 2, 2009

Playing in an intimate setting before a crowded room in New York's Upper East Side, Bolivian-born Pirai Vaca took the stage for his solo acoustic guitar performance with no more than a studio microphone before him as he kicked off his first set with the Paraguayan dance "Chopi," a tune mostly played on the instrument's bass strings.

From the onset, it was clear how swiftly Vaca—who currently resides in Germany—blends his classical training with more traditional South American musical elements. He didn't miss the opportunity to inject some jazz influences for good measure, improvising whenever the opportunity presented itself. He followed the opener with a suite of three tunes from his native country, the highlight being "Feria," in which he impressively mimicked Andean percussion by bringing together the E and A strings.

Vaca next took the program in another direction, re-tuning his guitar to D minor for the Turkish-inspired "Koyunbaba," a composition by Carlo Domeniconi. Vaca took ample advantage of the tune's simple structure to improvise freely, alternately playing in a very soft manner and then changing to a more energetic mode.

After a brief intermission, the guitarist once again changed his instrument's tuning for "Desde El Silencio," a soft ballad by contemporary Chilean composer Javier Farias Caballero. The delicate melody had notes so subtle they were nearly inaudible at times and, by merely looking at the guitarist's expression, it was clear he was feeling every sound coming from his instrument. He changed the mood with two Astor Piazzolla tunes, "Invierno Porteno" and "Primavera," though still favoring an extremely nuanced approach for both.

The program closed with Francisco Torrega's "Variacones sobre la Jota Aragonesa," which Vaca described as showing the "amazing possibilities" of the acoustic guitar. In a simply structured melody, he used various techniques—from hammering the strings with his left hand to plucking the strings like a walking bass to playing solely with harmonics to slapping the instrument like a swing bassist—all of which left the audience very impressed.

Vaca returned for an encore with "Fuego," a very fast-paced number that mixed contemporary and traditional grooves in a manner reminiscent of the work of Brazil's Odair Assad. It was a highly enjoyable evening, and one hopes that this talented guitarist has the opportunity to return Stateside in order to be discovered by larger audiences.

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