Enja 9478-2
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Imagine the castle of Elmau in the Bavarian mountains of Germany. At an altitude of 1000 meters, it is a refuge and sanctuary for the creative arts. Built as recently as 1914 by a theologist who believed people could find God through tranquility, music and dance, the schloss has performed its fiscal viability duties as a hotel. Many performers like Yehudi Menuhin enjoyed the offerings of this sanctuary and have performed here. Unfortunately, the castle burned down to the ground at the end of July last year. At the moment, money is being collected to rebuild the castle and revive its important cultural task of stimulating artists and guest alike to find relief in music.

Fortunately, the Renaud Garcia-Fons trio had the opportunity to record a live album in the schloss just before it fell prey to the flames. Two sessions became a live CD and DVD. The DVD is a visual performance record of the songs on the CD, the adds a short background documentary and interviews with Renaud, guitarist Antonio 'Kiko' Ruiz and percussionist Jorge 'Negrito' Trasante.

For a few years now, the RGF trio has toured Europe but never been able to produce a live recording. The previous album Entremundo is a studio version of the set the trio plays on tour, with added collaborations by a good handful of guest musicians. Arcoluz (Bow of Light) now presents the trio exactly as it performs live, with Kiko on the left, Renaud with his amazing 5-string bass in the middle (he adds a 5th high string) and Negrito at the right with his regiment of percussion instruments.

It is advisable to enjoy the CD a few times first without seeing the DVD. The joyful imagery one gets from listening to the music can be brutally distorted by watching the 'real' thing. It is a bit like watching the movie after the book. Nevertheless, the DVD's sound quality is great for 2.0 HT enjoyment. If you don't want to be spoiled by the contents of the DVD, skip the next paragraph.

The DVD is simply a straightforward registration of the trio's live performance. Quite a few cameras were used, including one on a robotic arm, to capture what occurred on stage. And that's it - no audience shots, just the three on stage. That isn't much. True, there are three very virtuoso players on stage, each playing their part beautifully. To the viewer, however, there is no excitement, no one-on-ones, no exchanged smiles between the performers, no visible interactions. No doubt there was interaction. The music is proof enough. But as captured on film, the scene is quite dead. The director has done an arguably great job of switching camera positions, interleaving close-ups and panned shots without a problem. It's just that the three on stage are such great musicians that all their playing seems effortless no matter how complex or fast the music gets.

So let's close our eyes instead and listen. The CD opens with a centerpiece for the bowed bass. The additional 5th string enlarges the sonic range from the bass well into violin territory and RGF uses that extensively. Then he changes bowing into one of his enigmatic specialties, the tapping of the strings with his bow. The sound of the bass morphs into the Middle Eastern palette and takes the listener into vistas of sandy dunes and scorching temperatures.

The imaginary journey continues with "Berimbass" to veer more towards the land of the flamenco. Kiko plays a very melodic line that is enhanced at both ends of the aural spectrum by bass and percussion. Then the rhythm changes and the plucked bass sends off its lowest notes at a high level while -- how many fingers does he have? -- RGF takes up a maniacal pace. If your amplifier or woofers have any restrictions, here they will show. "Berimbass" continues with con arco bass in the cello/violin registers in an uptempo flirtation with Andalusian and North African melodies before returning to the beautiful opening theme.

Then one extra instrument is introduced and it comes out of a box. On "Anda Loco", Negrito adds a synthesizer drone as though a sitar were struck. In almost 14 minutes, the trio takes the listener to unknown places of beauty and emotion. The highlight of the concert is no doubt the "Solea 40 Dias". All of what makes the RGF trio unique in musicality, emotions and craftsmanship is displayed in a meanderingly happy and sad melody that tells many stories of their Folklore Imaginaire. Though named the RGF trio after its genius bassist, the three musicians work as equals. The version of "Entremundo" also benefits from a synthesizer drone for a mystical flavor just as does the large drum Negrito uses. The final track on the album is a rocking version of "Entre Continentes".

With this live album, the RGF trio and Enja boss Matthias Winckelmann bestow a great pleasure for many listeners. This masterful recording Arcoluz, of unique music by uniquely inspired musicians, is a pure jewel.