Cantos del Corazón 

Home, the world and Huayucaltia

Wednesday, Sep 15 1999
Destinos (Huayucaltia Records)

The first time I listened to Destinos, I turned it up so loud that my neighbors actually asked me to turn it up higher. I'd waited impatiently for over two years, and I had to hear it the way it was meant to be heard, as if I were standing at the top of some ancient Andean volcano, looking out over wild, green mountains that bow gracefully before the clouds. I listened for the cries of animals, for the wind that blows the sultry land cool, for the Amazon rivers as they move helplessly toward the sea. I listened as intently as I did some 10 years ago, at the Comeback Inn in Venice, for the joy and the pain and the political urgency of Huayucaltia's nueva canción. My neighbors heard it, clear as day. I wasn't so sure.

It was Roque Dalton I was after, the Salvadoran poet's words sung so tenderly, so beautifully by Cindy Harding, accompanied by an earthy Latin American tapestry of Hernan Pinilla's panpipes, Afro-Peruvian drumming and Ciro Hurtado's intimate acoustic guitar.

I played it again, all original music and lyrics, some of which I had seen performed. Where was the blood of Victor Jara, the
exile of Inti-Illimani, the sweat of exploited peoples; where was the protest? There was jazz, flamenco, Middle Eastern, a little rock; there was a song, "Danza del Brujo," featuring Luis Perez, master of Mesoamerican shells, whistles, bells, who left the group eight years ago and went solo. Huayucaltia the group had nearly disappeared, its members having babies, taking degrees, teaching, working in different genres. They took the material planned for this album to Peru, fearful of what Peruvians might think, for it was respectful and somewhat indigenous, but it wasn't traditional. The Peruvians liked it. It was fresh.

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And then I heard it -- a lovely, graceful, spiritual sound. It was there in the words of "Cantos del Corazón":

I'm not from here

I come from the Antilles

I come from beyond

I come from Parana

Look how vibrantly I dance, I jump

I am inspired by this region

I sing from my heart

This music was bittersweet, softer than the decade-old songs composed from within political movements, rooted more in the life experiences of Peruvian, Colombian and Argentine immigrants who settled in Los Angeles and evolved as musicians. It crossed borders, finding unity rather than war, love instead of torture, birth where death was. It was a welcome relief. I turned it up louder -- for the neighbors.

The Gasoline Age (Merge)

F.M. Cornog, a.k.a. East River Pipe, struggled for years with homelessness, addiction and crippling loneliness. Nowadays, he records eerie, mournfully melodic pop songs alone in his apartment. But despite traces of mental instability and emotional anguish in his work, Cornog's antecedents aren't '60s drug casualties who offered listeners a thrill ride through a private landscape of despair. At his best, Cornog translates his obsessions into simple and universal pop language, and that puts him in a league with rock's greatest brooding alchemists -- Bryan Ferry, say, or even John Lennon.

Cornog isn't that good, because his obsessions don't dissolve often or easily enough. Too many of his songs blur together into hazy washes of bleached-out guitar and lyrics about street loneliness; they're never less than affecting, but they can seem small. Most of Gasoline concerns night driving. The tone is more soulful, the lyrics permeated a bit more by the air outside Cornog's apartment. But a lot of it still drifts.

On each of his four full-length discs, though, Cornog has managed at least one transcendent moment, and Gasoline's lasts the entire nine minutes plus of "Atlantic City." The magic isn't in the riff structure, where the chords change as predictably and regularly as traffic signals. It's not in the slow, swaying beat. It's in the way the whole song suddenly rises out of itself, curls, and collapses over singer and listener alike, not during the confessional "Daddy beat me every day" line, nor the pitifully hopeful "Gonna make a million tonight," but on "Hey hey hey hey." (Glen Hirshberg)

Romance With the Unseen (Blue Note)

The clarinet has resurfaced in jazz almost entirely because of Don Byron, a virtuoso technician and an eclectic, colorful presenter/raconteur of progressive music. His discs have covered '30s small-ensemble pre-swing, postmodern jazz, klezmer, avant-garde Latin and old-school funk. Much to the chagrin of jazz fans, he has confined his straight-ahead playing to the occasional album cut, one hard-to-find live disc (No-Vibe Zone) and guest spots on other people's records.

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