Guitarist Diego Barber burst onto the scene with the 2009 release Calima, an album with an expansive sound enveloped in a rustic serenity, courtesy of Barber's use of classical guitar in a jazz setting. He continued that sound with the 2011 release The Choice, an album that saw him move from the sounds of wide open spaces and into an environment in which his guitar work could display a tighter focus and sense of detail.
His evolution as musician takes another, much larger leap with his 2013 release 411, an album which sees him matching wits with the desktop wizardry of electronic artist Hugo Cipres. Flush with electronic washes and dance hall grooves, Barber's mix of classical and electric guitars takes turns meshing and contrasting with the prevailing digital environment.
Let's cut right to the heart of the matter. Third track "Poncho" illustrates the potential for genius this recording represents. The rapid pulse of electronics coalesces with the susurrus of classical guitar and the gentle patter of drums. It is a song that is both insistent and atmospheric, urgent and placid, contemporary and futuristic, and incorporates many divergent voices into one unique, encapsulating sound. Right here is reason enough to demand a follow-up recording.
Other tracks incorporate these same elements, but with a varying degree of balance and with divergent methods of expressiveness.
In fact, much of this album eschews atmospheric potential for a willful groove. "Walk!" has Barber on electric engaged in some funky repartee with saxophonist Blake. Bassist Weidenmueller and drummer Hoenig instill a punctuated cadence that keeps things low to the ground without ever threatening to become an obstacle to free motion.
The electro-groove prevalent to so much of this album is an area developing with a greater insurgency in the last couple years. The natural reference would be that of keyboarding Jason Lindner, who brings a similar touch to his own music, like that of Now vs. Now, as well as the recent release by Donny McCaslin, but the music of 411 also echoes that of electronica-percussionist savant Dosh.
The groove continues on "New York Citric," with Hoenig setting the tone right from the start. There occurs some atonal drift, the tune shedding its structure, incited primarily by the entrance of sax and electronics. But Barber is a force of change on the song when he enters on classical guitar and gently lays a blanket of strings over the competing sounds, making them as one indistinguishable whole.
The remainder of the tracks take on the personality of album-opener "Timanfaya," a tune that is heavy with the percussion driven tempo and thick electronic washes. Cipres dishes out the effects with some wise timing...an ethereal presence of "Timanfaya" sets the tone for the album, and on "All In," the electronic squiggles match well with Weidenmueller's commanding, furtive bass phrases, whereas on "East Side Story," Cipres takes on the role of accompaniment to the electronic squirming of Blake's EWI.
And, admittedly, while I do miss the wide-open sound of Barber's debut Calima, I'm absolutely thrilled to hear him take chances with creative leaps such as 411. I want musicians to record music that I enjoy listening to, but even more, I want them to display creative vision and take big risks to follow those visions...because that's the kind of inspiration that incites all kinds of imaginative responses in a listener. That is the kind of thing that can't be overvalued. Barber and Cipres score bonus points for taking a stab at that kind of result.