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Guagua, Psychotropical 

Album Review

click to enlarge cdreview-guagua.jpg

(Self released, CD)

Featuring a plethora of talent from such notable local and regional acts as The Lazybirds, John Brown’s Body, Black Sea Quartet, Balkanica and Sambatucada, the sophomore release from Burlington’s mind-bending Latin-jazz collective Guagua arrives this month with considerable expectations. For the most part, Psychotropical delivers.

As its title suggests, the album is steeped in tropical rhythms. Intricate horn lines and deft improvisation characterize most tunes on the disc. A listener who happened to hear this music without any context would likely not guess it was a product of Vermont musicians.

Psychotropical was primarily composed by guitarist Geoff Kim, whose playing is tasteful and restrained. Likewise, every member of the ensemble is showcased evenly throughout the album, as such skilled players should be. It seems unfair to single out any musicians, as they all perform wonderfully. Still, it’s worth mentioning that Dominique Gagne, Annakalmia Traver and Alex Toth are superlative on flute, saxophone and trumpet, respectively.

The recording is also a testimony to the talents of engineer Daryl Rabidoux. He has tweaked the knobs and faders for countless bands in Vermont and beyond, and recently left Burlington for Providence, Rhode Island, where he’s continuing his various musical endeavors. As one of the last projects Rabidoux worked on before he left, this disc demonstrates his growth and versatility behind the board.

Guagua are not the first Vermont band to employ an international aesthetic. It’s an interesting choice, as excessive world-music flair can be off-putting. But Guagua avoid most of the perils, accurately incorporating the idioms of the genre into their songwriting and not dwelling on any of the obvious clichés. Most importantly, they have character. They might not sound like they’re from Vermont, but they certainly sound like Guagua.

Psychotropical is a fun, impressive follow-up to the band’s 2006 debut, Pan Frito. At more than 70 minutes, the disc is a bit long. But fans of jazz, Afro-Latin rhythms and skilled musicianship will find much to enjoy here.

The album suggests that Guagua is even better live. So I recommend checking out their CD release party at Parima this Friday, February 1.

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