JazzTimes (p.52) - "[A] wonderfully evocative Ibero-American travelogue. Virtuosity aside, what impresses most are the arrangements."
Personnel: Carlos Barbosa-Lima (guitar); Christopher McGuire (guitar); Marcílio Lopes (mandolin).
Audio Mixer: Malcolm Addey.
Liner Note Authors: Ernesto Cordero; Ernesto Bernal Cordero.
Recording information: Acoustic Plus, Dallas, TX (03/2008-04/2009); Estudio Umuarama, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (03/2008-04/2009); Malcolm Addey Recorders, New York, NY (03/2008-04/2009); Maverick Recording, New York, NY (03/2008-04/2009); PRT Studio, Puerto Nuevo, Puerto Rico (03/2008-04/2009).
Author: Ernesto Bernal Cordero.
Editor: Malcolm Addey.
Photographers: Francisco Pinto; Jack Frisch.
Arrangers: Marcílio Lopes; Laurindo Almeida; Carlos Barbosa-Lima .
Carlos Barbosa-Lima has been on a roll on his recordings for the Zoho label in the decade of the 2000s. Every effort has shown a different side of the expert Brazilian acoustic guitarist, and with Merengue, he's really stretching out in areas of the South and Latin American folkloric tradition. Playing solo for the bulk of this material, Barbosa-Lima employs sources ranging from his native land to Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and even Hawaii. The depth of this music is astounding considering the small size of instrumentation, even when he is not performing by himself. Of course the guitarist has always been a peerless musician, but here it shows even more so as he adopts these themes from a wide variety of composers, some well-known and others deserving much wider recognition worldwide. From countryman Antonio Carlos Jobim, the pensive ballad "Modinha" is a feature for harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens, while "Caminho de Pedra" is a solemn soul song also in duet with Meurkens. Heitor Villa-Lobos is known for 20th century classical compositions, and the trio take of his piece "Velerio" -- inspired by sailboating -- is faithful to both poetic and chamber-like elements in a waltz configuration, and a solo guitar read of "Prelude #2" adds finger-style flamenco elements to the mix. Fellow guitarist Laurindo Almeida wrote "Batuque," and Barbosa-Lima plays it solo in a lively, ritual dance mode, the closest thing to jazz and improvised music on the date. A tribute to the late Venezuelan songwriter Antonio Lauro crops up in his pieces like the happy, folksy "El Marabino" with cuatro player Gustavo Colina and the dance-oriented "Seis Po Derecho," both in 6/8 time. Cuban Leo Brouwer's beautiful "Danza del Altiplano" actually comes from a Peruvian source, while a truer-to-form "Guajira Criolla" has that deep-seated but lighthearted Havana spirit. There are two quartet tracks composed by Radamés Gnattali (who wrote strictly for guitar), in these instances adding on guitarists Karin Schaupp and Christopher McGuire and the great percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca. The foursome stretches this sonic palette, using playful modality and even minimalism during Almeida's arrangement of "Invocation to Xango," while "Canhoto" is played in a choro style with Barbosa-Lima alongside Da Fonseca and mandolinist Marcillo Lopes. The same threesome does the upbeat, festal dance "Implicante" with extraordinary energy and good feelings, while the title track is in a 5/8 time signature, again with Colina's cuatro in a Venezuelan dance mode. Off the beaten path from Brazilian music, "Pais de Abanico" is a folkish traipse through Paraguay, "Nunca Te Olvido" comes from Colombia and is a reminder not to forget past times, and "Fantasy on a Hawaiian Lullaby" is a memorable solo piece that only suggests slack key guitar in subtle ways. Contributing exponentially to the excellence of the musicality is producer, veteran musicologist, and progressive jazz legend Heiner Stadler. Merengue is about as wonderful and heartwarming a recording as you'll ever hear and a triumph for Barbosa-Lima, ranking right up there with his very best work. ~ Michael G. Nastos