Cuban, Mariachi, Tango, World
Newmarket Music NEW3335.2 and Romero Records ROM007
Reviewed by Gavin Franklin, August 1st, 2014
What a creative mind is that of guitarist-composer Julian Curwin. A stripped–back version of the group entitled The Tango Saloon, The Mango Balloon plays Curwin’s haunting pieces with disarming directness. The music is unpretentious, consisting of appealing melodies drifting over uncluttered accompaniments that are carefully crafted for each composition. There is no waste; economy of means is the guiding principle.
This CD contains fourteen short character pieces that explore various idioms and evoke a wide range of emotions. The compositions are visual in the sense that they would make interesting film themes. There is a strong sense of watching a ‘spaghetti western’ in some tunes. For example, even in its title, the third track on the album, High Noon, makes no bones about this association. It uses raunchy electric guitar sounds, brass and vamping accordion along with parade ground drumming in a menacing minor mode waltz that is reminiscent of some of the music for the series entitled The League of Gentlemen.
The whole is performed very competently and the sounds are selected carefully from the available palette in order to achieve certain effects. Frijoles Negroes with its trumpet lead and tuba obbligato and percussion accompaniment has the atmosphere of a Mexican mariachi waltz. The special guest on the recording, Shenzo Gregorio, viola, is featured on the piece entitled Sundown. With very tasteful use of reverb, the instrument carries the sonorous main melody over a continuous acoustic guitar ostinato. It creates a moment of contemplative beauty.
White Elephant combines the mariachi trumpet sound with slide guitar and a surf guitar bridge to produce an original tango. Iguanita is a gentle tango that combines two lovely tunes, one in major mode, played in thirds on guitar with another in minor, played pizzicato by the viola. Little Havana has associations with Cuban culture that would be envied by the members of the Buena Vista Social Club. What can I say? I love it. As John Shand says, “Sydney would be a duller place without Julian Curwin.”