Leo Brouwer – «De Bach a Los Beatles» (1981)

7 minutes / Humberto Manduley

27.03.2019 / Reviews

He just turned 80 the teacher Leo Brouwer, and is still doing battle: directing orchestras, writing, teaching, conferring by half the world. Although I have followed in his footsteps since the 70s, without a doubt I missed a good part of his best stage as a guitar soloist, which occurred in the previous decade. But at least I managed to see him playing on several occasions (I remember one of them in particular, a duet with flutist Alberto Corrales, in the crowded lounge of the National Library), as well as his auditions on electroacoustic music, and some concerts that he directed In the Habana. And it was always an apprenticeship, because it confronted us with unknown pages of the national and foreign repertoire, besides overwhelming with the technical mastery of the instrument its encyclopedic knowledge about almost all the musics, its fine sense of smell to offer novelty next to the known, articulated in the same dimension

Anyway, it is worth saying that it is difficult to cover (even, like) the totality of the work of Leo, who for more than 6 decades has moved in dissimilar lands, in his double condition of composer and interpreter. There is a notable part of his production focused on the guitar (acoustic, Spanish, box, as it is called), but there are also his scores for film, theater and dance, as well as for orchestras or other solo instruments (cello, flute, piano, percussion, violin); his incursion in the randomization, his performance as director of symphonic and chamber ensembles, or in front of collectives as diverse as the Musical Theater of Havana, or the Sound Experimentation Group of the ICAIC. In fact, within the same guitar has both its authorial presence, and its approach as performer of foreign pieces.

I think the first thing I bought from Leo was a single that brought Commutations, with my ridiculously meager salary (7 pesos) of recruit. They sold it in a small store inside the air base of San Antonio de los Baños, where I spent my military service (1976-1979). It cost a peso, and with it I gave continuity to a beginner and still rickety home collection featuring other singles (Paul McCartney & Wings, Formula V, Modules, Paul Anka, something from the New Trova) and two or three full-length albums . Later, with a difference of a few years, but always between the end of the 70s and the middle of the next decade, I made three LPs that I keep and that measure the expansive universe that drives: Leo-Irakere (1978), From Bach to The Beatles (1981) and Contemporaries 10 (1984). To these acetates I have added the CD Homo ludens, recordings in .mp3, and several books about his work, including a couple of those he has written himself.

In my days on the radio, Brouwer was always present in my spaces. I think I programmed it a lot, in the case of music far removed from the complacent and conventional. From Bach to The Beatles It is a record for those who like a wide and unprejudiced selection, focused on the six strings. While the elegant initial melody immediately catches, I think the juiciest thing goes to the center of the disc. In a very intelligent way Leo established an expressive flow where pieces of Baroque Europe did not clash between Latin American melodies taken from folklore, and an ancestor of jazz was combined with a British pop page, or with an appropriation of one of the most famous «nanas »Written in Cuba. The nuances, the tense or sweet attack, the perfect cadences, that expressivity that transported in time and space from a simple guitar, with no extra effects, made this album one of my favorites within the nationals for a long time. It still is. The moments that I like the most are in Sicilian, the beautiful (and apparently, anonymous) Dance of the Altiplano, Fool on the hill, The entertainer and his own One day in November, although I like them all. For the guitarists I suppose it was a header disc; for simple music lovers like me, it became an object of worship. There are five characters that (little by little) were decisive in my predilection for that type of acoustic sound of plucked strings: Silver Hands and Sabicas (of whom there were LPs at home since my childhood), Paco de Lucía and Egberto Gismonti (both I could see them live in Havana) and Leo. I do not say it's the "more" better, or "the first place" and those sports adjectives: they are only the ones that led me to love that instrument, even though I have no idea how it is played. About Leo, I also want to remember that several Cuban rock groups approached their material.

In that sense, the first thing I heard was the arrangement that Arte Vivo made of one of its Simple studies, strong dish in the days to trio (Alfredo Gómez Alonso, Mario Daly and Enrique González Pérez). Also, Síntesis, Perfume de Mujer and Quantum have recorded versions of their songs. It is obvious that there was a genetic connection between Leo's work and more experimental rock, even that conceived in Cuba. Maybe that's why I was not surprised to see, in the Recommended Records catalogs that Chris Cutler sent me in the 80s, that British company distributed one of their LPs, among titles of Satie, Univers Zero, Bartok, Zappa and Phil Ochs. Being Leo Brouwer a capital figure in Cuban culture, it is almost unknown to the population. Except for what was for years the subject of the introduction of TV News, the vast majority of people had no idea of his work. They knew his name, but they ignored his production. Besides that he grabbed some saber of censorship, it was said that his music was elitist, only for connoisseurs and musicones, that if this or that, that if patatín or patatán.

However, I think that anyone who has a minimum of curiosity can be interested in their work, at least in some of its edges. I am not a musician, nor do I have art studies and, nevertheless, something in his work touched me and I followed him. I am not an absolute fan of everything he owns: there are things that exceed me, or that until today I have not known them (his Cuban discography is quite small). But as far as this album is concerned, it was among the first Cuban LPs that I included in my collection (there was not much I liked in the market) and I do not regret it.

I still charge with him, among my pearls, and although I do not hear it as much as in those initial days, from time to time I put it and the spell returns, intact.

Humberto Manduley

Father twice, music lover without a diploma and currently unemployed. He likes to walk, read and listen to music without a specific order. Sometimes he writes.

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