Teldec 1997
label website
Journey to the Amazon is a celebration of classical solo guitar in the best Julian Bream tradition, albeit embedded in South-American compositions by Laurindo Almeida, Antonio Lauro, Agustín Barrios Mangoré, Gaudencio Thiago de Mello (who provides hand percussion on all but four of the album's 17 tracks), Gentil Montaña, Isaias Savio, Leo Brouwer, Benito Canonico and Alfredo Vianna Pixinguinha, with Paul Winter's suave sax adding color on three cuts.

The scope of compositions and Isbin's classical training with its competitive emphasis on fingering perfection, precise articulation, wealth of timbral variations and fully developed tone means that Amazon isn't pure Baden Powell or Romero Lubambo but rather, a crafty stylistic hybrid of classical and Latin sensibilities whose glory lies less in the laissez-faire abandon of truly Brazilian music but in the masterful purity of execution that points at the perfectly groomed tropical feather of the cover art.

Sharon's lyrical bel canto delivery goes far indeed to remove the gestalt of stiffness which classical training often injects into any attempts of breaking out of its very own stifling protocol. De Mello's rhythmic accompaniment liberates further many -- though not all -- remaining strands of the classical poise in its fishbone corset. The end result becomes a sophisticated homage to the melodic beauty of Brazilian tunes that often seem to mix French Impressionist elements of, say a Milhaud or Poulenc, with the easy-going swing of Jazz. Emphasis here clearly is on the sophisticated rather than sloppy but insinuating part, hence less earthy hip swaying and more intellectual awe. Now add the well-known recording quality of Warner Bros.' subsidiary, Teldec, and you arrive at something that could just as well have been issued on one of the many smaller audiophile labels. Thanks to the Two Bald Guys from the eponymous Portland audio establishment for sending me a copy - it's the perfect musical backdrop for an upscale eatery that pays extreme attention to perfect ambiance.