Nowadays, one of the hardest parts for music lovers is staying up to date with interesting releases and artists. The days of pirate radio stations playing underground and other lesser-known artists are over. Also, the days of real record stores are counted. One after the other is closing and the ones that survive concentrate on mainstream, let alone allow you to sample anything over 30 seconds. Thus the circuit of friends and their recommendations is becoming more and more important outside of the plain lucky finds.
It was at the Dutch VAD Audio & Video show that we attended a presentation of Marantz maverick Ken Ishiwata. Ken is not only a gifted designer-cum-marketer, he is first of all a lover of all things beautiful. While explaining the role Marantz has played over the years, he illustrated the various formats of recorded music, mono and stereo LP, CD and SACD.
Two pieces Ken played hit us straight in the heart. One was a private recording of Ken's and the other an officially released recording. This second recording was of a flamenco guitar accompanied by slight percussion and what no doubt was a fretless electric bass. The intensity and sheer beauty of the music made us think of Dutch flamenco guitarist Erik Vaarzon Morel. Right after Ken's presentation, we asked him who the guitarist was, offering what we thought. With a big smile on his face for fooling us, he said "Your countryman - Alain Labrie".
Thanks to the Internet, we contacted Alain and he sent us the CD Calle Ventana of his group Labryenco. Alain plays guitars, balalaika, bouzouki, oud and is responsible for all compositions and lyrics. Franklin Heilijgers plays the characteristic fretless bass, Jaro Stulratjer violin and cello, Antal Steixner various percussion and Carlos Denin uses his voice.
From the opening track, Labryenco -- the name is a playful combination of Labrie & Co. -- deposits us on the tracks of a powerful, fast and masterfully played flamenco nuevo. Lightning-fast fingers hit the strings while the deep bass provides the balancing fundamentals to it. The diverse styles of flamenco -- Tangos, Bulerias, Fandangos and Tarantas -- are arranged sequentially, each contributing to a continued arc of attention. From the very first track, Labrie and his friends suck you into their world of flamenco.
All songs on the album have a personal background. Calle Ventana refers to Alain's former home address and the place where his studio is now. "Mi Companera" is his impression of the two most important females in his life, his girlfriend and his cat. Other songs are an ode to a gypsy friend, his mother and the various seasons. We experience the same emotion we felt during the VAD show presentation each time we play this CD. The goosebumps and sometimes a little extra eye fluid are released by the combination of bass, the extended violin bows and the guitar. We are definitely suckers for this type of lyricism created here.
All nine compositions on the album are of unique quality, though "Cuando mi guitarra llora" is the highlight in its originality, more so even when you realize that the entire project was helmed by Alain Labrie. He composed, recorded, mixed and produced all songs. Only the mastering was outsourced. The recording itself is of a wonderful quality, close- miked where possible and overall well balanced. Regarding the pressing of the disc, our test did not show any flaws during our usual EAC testing which, though a seemingly small issue, isn't easily managed by most commercial pressings. This recording is an absolute finding and deserves a Best Dutch Flamenco Recording Award.