Bajo El Sol

Russ Hewitt

Sualitomusic, 2008

http://www.russhewittmusic.com

REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/19/2009

Nuevo Flamenco has been around since the 1970s.  A mixture of flamenco, Latin-American rhythms, jazz and pop, Nuevo Flamenco remains a pertinent part of the contemporary smooth jazz scene.  In his 2008 album Bajo El Sol, Texan guitarist Russ Hewitt brings this longstanding style to the 21st century.  A veteran rock ‘n’ roller, Hewitt assembles world-renowned musicians Walfredo Reyes Jr. on drums, Rafael Padilla on percussion, producer Bob Parr on bass and famed flamenco guitarist Alfredo Caceres on rhythm guitar.  Being his breakthrough flamenco album, Hewitt’s impressive guitar skills shine.  Nonetheless, the album’s homogeneity makes it ultimately boring.

I have no doubt that Hewitt is a skillful guitarist.  His ability to play traditional flamenco, mix it with pop sensibilities and still bust out a competent jazz solo is impressive.  Take the opening track, which shares the same name as the album. Hewitt flawlessly executes an infectious melody over a samba-pop groove without making it sound disjointed.  Particularly consequential is when Hewitt breaks out into a full-on montuno (Latin rhythmic pattern), bringing his listeners into the complete range of Latin musical styles.nbtc__dv_250

Taken individually, all the songs on this album are decent.  But as an album, it is difficult to distinguish one from another.  It seems that Hewitt was so determined to break into the Nuevo Flamenco scene that he forgot that the human brain can only take so much of the same thing.  To be fair, Hewitt tries to incorporate different styles of music.  (He describes his music as “Latin world” and states that it was inspired by his travels through Europe, Turkey, China and Egypt).  Regardless, whether he is playing the Egyptian sounding “Byzantine,” the hauntingly unrequited “Ojos Bonitos” (which sounds inspired by the Moorish influence on traditional Spain) or the upbeat “Palma De Mallorca,” they all have the detrimentally similar quality of simply sounding like a pop band featuring a flamenco guitar player.  This is partially because the band does not create enough distinction for the “worldly” qualities to be apparent.  Also, all the arrangements are strikingly similar: flamenco melody, guitar solo, flamenco melody, with little variation.

There are two things saving this album from being in the “listen to it once and forget about it” category: the enigmatic production by Bob Parr and the hip rhythm guitar by Alfredo Caceres.  Parr’s production is both tasteful and innovative.  He creates a mood that appropriately fits around Hewitt’s guitar.  Parr knows what sounds the songs require and mixes the instruments perfectly to emphasis the emotional aspect of each composition.  Plus, some of his drum sounds are brilliantly original.  Caceres’ rhythm guitar adds great depth and beauty to each song, and his rhythmic variations are the most fascinating part of the album.  If anything, Bajo El Sol makes me want to listen to Caceres’ solo music.

Even with Parr’s brilliant production and Caceres’ enriching guitar skills, Bajo El Sol still falls flat conceptually.  It is difficult to get to even the fourth song without thinking that it sounds exactly like the first three (there are ten songs total).  Essentially, it is an album that is immediately impressive but quickly repetitive.  It is ultimately a valiant but forgettable work, leaving the listener hoping that Hewitt’s talent will come across as more enigmatic and thought-provoking in the future.

Rating: C

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