Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bittersweet Malpais Album

Bittersweet Malpais Album

     For the many fans of Malpais it is impossible not to become nostalgic while listening to their new CD. Fans, friends, family and band members were stunned at the sudden and unexpected passing late last August of Fidel Gamboa, the singer/songwriter/guitarist/flautist of this very popular Costa Rican group. After the shock resided a bit, the remaining musicians in the band decided to pay tribute to their fallen leader, which they did, with the help of many other notable musicians, at the National Stadium in San Jose in mid-November to an emotional sold-out audience. During that nether time, the band also discussed releasing one more album, another way to honor their friend and to thank their loyal fans. The decision was an easy one.
     The new album, titled “Volver a Casa”, is a mosaic of musical pieces that span the history of the band and Fidel’s careers. The second song on the album, “El Puente”, for example, was written in 2002 with the idea of using it for the band’s first album, Uno but was shelved at the last minute, a gem that was tucked away has now reemerged nearly a decade later. One of Fidel’s side projects had been contributing music for soundtracks and some of the songs on “Volver a Casa” are scores of his that appeared in various films. The opening song, “El Retorno” was written for the Luciano Capelli conservation-conscious documentary “Se quema el cielo”; the instrumental score “Marasmo” was written and recorded for the film of the same name and “Pronostico del tiempo” was co-written with his brother Jaime, the cofounder of Malpais, in 1998, prior to the formation of the band, for the movie of the same name. Fidel was also known for his whimsical, playful side, displayed on this disc with songs like “Falsa Balada para Ana Maria Lara”. The band discovered songs written and recorded in the studio by Fidel that none of them had been aware of. Their task was to put their personal accompaniment and arrangements to these songs prior to releasing them to the public. Another surprising gem they discovered was “A contraluz”, composed at the piano, a musical instrument Fidel did not usually employ.
     The album was coproduced by Jaime Gamboa and Luciano Capelli in what could only have been a very emotional labor of love. The presentation of the song list, the liner notes and art design for the album collectively do a wonderful job of juxtaposing this band’s storied history.
     Fidel was a poet, a clever storyteller, with subtle messages woven into his tales. He was a visual writer, using physical objects in his lyrics and making it easy for the listener to imagine the subjects of his songs. He was also a humanitarian, clearly portrayed with his array of community work and contributions. The last known song Fidel wrote and arranged in the studio is titled “Vuela sobre la ciudad”, a gentle hymn for peace, a touching end to an incredible career that ended much too soon.
     All the Malpais CDs are available at the Jaime Peligro book stores in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal, where they will sample the music for their customers. 
     All comments concerning this article are gladly welcome.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A New Guanacaste Voice

A New Guanacaste Voice

     When he was fourteen years old, Isaac Ehresman’s father took his guitar from him and told him to get to work. So he did, but he never stopped composing music. A few years ago, Isaac picked up a new guitar and began sharing his songs with anyone who would listen. One person he impressed was Tom Rothermel, lifelong music aficionado, along with being a very diverse musician and technical specialist. Isaac and Tom starting playing music together, along with percussionist Carlos Chacon, almost accidentally at the first Playa Grande Turtle Festival at the MINAE ranger station there. Unbeknownst to them, it was filmed by Channel 11. When they saw themselves on TV that night, they all recognized their potential and quickly delved into recording Isaac’s songs together. I have been lucky enough to hear a rough, first mix and I, too, am impressed. Isaac’s voice has a magnetism that is infectious.
     The trio bill themselves as “Isaac Ehresman con Fusion” playing at The Rip Jack Inn in Playa Grande every Tuesday, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Carlos is the visual centerpiece, with a lot of stage presence, flanked by Isaac on guitar and harmonica and Tom on the other side playing bass. Ninety percent of the repertoire is comprised of Isaac’s original compositions. He’s been on a composing frenzy lately, so one never knows what you will hear when you see the band live.
     The demo recording I have is a compilation of seventeen songs by the band, followed by seven solo numbers by Isaac. This final set sounds like the composer putting down new songs for the band to work with, a nice vantage point for a music nerd like me. The CD spans more than an hour. It’s hard to label the style. With a nylon string guitar and a lot of hand percussion, it’s easy to call it folk, but with many orchestration and tempo changes, it can’t be pigeonholed that easily. The recording opens with “Babylon”, an up-tempo song with an element of playfulness to it; “Todos Tus Nombres” falls into this category as well, with its catchy hooks and lyrics. One of the strongest songs in my opinion is “Labios Mentirosos”, a tune that demonstrates Isaac’s strong voice as well as the versatility of the band.
     At the time of their first live performance, Isaac was also working in Playa Grande as an assistant to a turtle biologist. He is sincere about sharing his music and his convictions about making a positive impact, conveying a concern about living in harmony with nature and each other. Tom is passionate in his desire to incorporate his music background into a comprehensive project, firmly believing in Isaac’s potential and offering his knowledge and practicality, not only as a musician but as a live sound and recording engineer, arranger, as well as business manager. The band plans to release the final version of the album in about six months, growing all the while and possibly doing some recording outside to integrate the natural sounds of Playa Grande into the mix. I’m looking forward to hearing that final version.

     On another local musician note, Jesse Bishop and his new blues band The Bananas are performing a two hour set every Wednesday at the Hotel Marriot, beginning at 7:00 p.m. They will also play at Maries in Flamingo on lucky Friday the 13th of this month. A great bass, harmonica and guitar blues trio.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Simbiosis in Guanacaste

Symbiotic Action in Guanacaste

     The new Papaya DVD, “Piano and Tropical Dry Forest – a Journey into the Heart of the Tropics” is a stunning compilation of imagery and sound, filmed and recorded entirely in the Guanacaste province, in several locations: Rincon de la Vieja and Cacao, Islas Catalinas, the Gulf of Papagayo, Malpais, Playa Naranjo, the national parks of Palo Verde and Santa Rosa and El Viejo Wetlands. The hour of sound and film of Manuel Obregon accompanying the natural sounds and sights of each of these areas on his portable electric piano is nothing less than breathtaking, impressive in its consistent attention to detail on and off camera. I cannot imagine the number of man-hours put into this project, also a statement to Papaya’s commitment. The filming, a team of five photographers, headed by Luciano Capelli, who is also the director and executive producer, presents a potpourri of crystal clear long shots and very detailed close-ups of the area’s living, breathing soul, all literally in concert with Obregon improvising with Nature’s beauty and unpredictable personality. The imagery is really a play of light and motion; the editing in conjunction with the sound is superb. Nano Fernandez contributed a seamless job of recording the natural sounds, then mixing and mastering the final result, a critical step in the end production that often goes unrecognized. 
Simbiosis Sound Crew

     The footage of the fog rolling in at Naranjo, the broad shots of Witch’s Rock, the monkeys, anteaters and detailed insect sequences in Santa Rosa, the rugged beauty of a Malpais sunrise, the frog ballet and rain passages in Quebrada el Duende along a trail and a creek near La Casona de Santa Rosa, the fade-outs and overlays, the captured concentration on Manuel’s face, all combine like a life-play. And the work it must have taken to get to those locations, record and film, then breakdown and edit it all into a final, beautiful product is mind-boggling and could only have been produced from a passion for the area.

     It is no secret that Guanacaste has a special place in the hearts of the Papaya family: obviously, the popular band Malpais was founded here. Luciano Capelli and his wife, writer Yazmin Ross have produced a notable book on this province (“Guanacaste – Rutas de Viaje”) and in 2010, Capelli filmed the documentary “Se Quema el Cielo” (“The Sky is Burning”) about the vulnerability of the fragile dry rainforest here, one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. Manuel Obregon’s first Simbiosis venture was filmed in the Monteverde National Park in Guanacaste. In fact, it was while Capelli was filming his documentary that he hatched the idea to conduct this second Simbiosis project.
     One sure sign of a successful artistic idea is when it spawns new ones, when it grows and takes on new branches. Papaya Music has demonstrated that propensity as key members have worked together as well as having solo projects. I’ve always considered them a good team but I am seeing now that they are really more like a family, like threads of a woven tapestry. The DVD is available at the Jaime Peligro book stores inPlaya Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal. All comments concerning this this article are gladly welcome.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fabulous Fabienne

Fabulous Fabienne

     Fabienne is a professional singer: she has a sultry voice with a wide range that she knows how to use, like the musical instrument that it is, an amazing feat for a vocalist who has had no formal training. Fabienne also has great stage presence with a knack for engaging her audience and she obviously enjoys what she does. All these elements are showcased on her new CD, titled simply “Fabienne”. It is a six song set comprised of four classic songs and two originals. The album is self produced and was recorded at the Recording Studio in Liberia by Warren Alani over a span of two months in total, at times with various tracks recorded separately and overdubbed.
     The quartet backing her is rock solid, with Warren Alani on keyboards and synthetic percussion, David Herzovitch “nuestro Pelotudo” handling the bass guitar, Pierre Gaillard on six string guitar and vocals as well as composing the two new songs, and the inimitable Brad Schmidt on red hot saxophone. The standards “Cry Me a River’ and “Summertime” are standouts, timeless songs that serve as wonderful vehicles for Fabienne’s delivery. Her new band, Fabi & Swing Cats (Ludovic Solar on guitar and David Herzovitch on bass) has been busy, performing live at Witches Rock every Tuesday from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and next door at Vacquero on Sundays from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. They also appear Saturdays from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Hotel Marriot and at Langosta Beach Club on Fridays 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Whew, busy, indeed.

     Fabienne has lived in Costa Rica for fourteen years, the last ten in Tamarindo. She told me that she has been performing live for eight years now and that after the first year; she worked for a second year by herself to improve her voice, always aspiring to have full range and control. I think she’s gotten there. She performed for three years with local guitar wizard Jesse Bishop, to whom she attributes a lot of her early development. “He was like a trainer, a mentor for me,” she explained, pointing out his help with her timing and stage presence. After her three year stint with Jesse, she was ready to strike out on her own. She noted how bands form and transform, evolving and changing, and that the relationships and commitments among band members for a successful group needs to be as strong as that of a romantic relationship. “I’m actually married to my singing,” she half-joked. “Actually, there can be something close… pretty close, to orgasmic in a good live performance,” she explained, and I believe she wasn’t kidding this time.
     I’ve seen Fabienne perform for several years now in a few different bands and every time I see her, I am reminded of how much fun she is having onstage. I also note that she gets better with each new show I get to see. “Fabienne” the CD is a reflection of the culmination of her hard work and her natural talent, something worthy of anyone’s music library. In Playa Tamarindo, the CD is available at Jaime Peligro book store and at all her live shows.  
     All comments concerning this article are gladly welcome.