Saturday, November 20, 2010

CD Review – Beauty and Fire, by Tomas Michaud

This has been a great year for independent instrumental guitar releases, and the latest album by Tomas Michaud is no exception. Just like its title, Michaud’s CD is full of beauty and fire, but also passion, vigor, romance, and verve.

Michaud plays flamenco guitars, but this is by no means strictly flamenco guitar music. Even I sometimes forget that flamenco doesn’t just refer to a style of music, but a kind of guitar as well – namely, a Spanish, or nylon-string, guitar. And Michaud pushes the boundaries and exceeds the expectations of what a nylon-string guitar can be used for.

Sure, there are some latent flamenco rhythms deep in the background of some of the songs, but the compositions are much more than that. The tunes comprise a variety of musical genres and cultures, from New Age, jazz, and fusion to Latin, Asian, and Middle Eastern. The common thread that holds these wide-ranging sounds together is the beautiful, thoughtful, and intelligent lead- and rhythm-guitar playing of Michaud, who is backed by a solid band of musicians on bass, keyboards, percussion, and other instruments.

Two tunes in particular exemplify the cosmopolitan scope of Michaud’s writing. “Beauty and Fire” opens the album with an eclectic mix of East and West as a familiar Arabian melody ventures into Indian musical territory complete with tablas and sitars, all filtered through romantic jazz balladry. The smoldering, tempo-shifting “Night into Day (After the Storm)” starts off as a playful, jazzy exercise that shifts gears into a slow, hook-laden groove and back again, simulating the transition of the title and accompanied by the low rumblings of gentle thunder.

With its combination of nylon-string guitar, world music, and other exotic sounds, Beauty and Fire is a globetrotting feast for the ears.

--Raj Manoharan

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