x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Rodrigo Y Gabriela: Area 52

All itch-scratching Latin percussion and bustling virtuosity, the album is largely a joyful invitation to dance.

Area 52
Rubyworks
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The wider propagation of Cuba's vibrant indigenous music owes much to Buena Vista Social Club, the 1997 album that saw the guitarist Ry Cooder and the Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez teamed with a host of venerable, Havana-based greats. Some 15 years on, Area 52 sees Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero tap a similar seam of inspiration.

Minded to radically rearrange nine compositions cherry-picked from their previous albums, the Mexican guitar duo travelled to the Cuban capital to work with a 13-piece orchestra. "We saw it as a trip into the unknown, an experiment," Rodrigo has said.

The title Area 52, meanwhile, is a play on Area 51, the Nevada military base that is also home to much testing and experimentation. All itch-scratching Latin percussion and bustling virtuosity, album opener Santo Domingo sets a lively pace that is soon echoed by Hanuman and Diablo Rojo. Area 52 is largely a joyful invitation to the dance, then, with only the meditative, piano-led Logos offering the listener something like a breather.

Elsewhere, the call-and-response vocals led by Carlota Noriega on 11:11 are a rich balm for the senses, and Rodrigo Y Gabriela's Paco-De-Lucia-to-Carlos-Santana-like guitar chops impress, but there are also moments when the duo's well-intentioned showboating distracts.

Area 52 is a fun place to visit, but beneath the deft Latin-Cuban stylings, you can still hear that R&G met while playing in the thrash metal band Tierra Acida.

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