Amsterdam label Music From Memory continues its revival of late-20th-century Mediterranean sounds with this collection of works by Spanish multi-instrumentalist Suso Sáiz's eclectic ’80s new age trio.
It’s only in the past few years that the exquisite music that emanated from seemingly idyllic Mediterranean climes in the 1980s and ’90s has garnered appreciation beyond its native region and era. Thanks to timely reissues of albums by Portuguese composer Nuno Canavarro, Italians like Gigi Masin and Roberto Musci, and Spaniards Javier Bergia, Joan Bibiloni, Pep Llopis, and Suso Sáiz, these musicians’ graceful blending of new age, ambient, minimalism, jazz fusion, experimental, and world music have found resonance with a new generation. Amsterdam’s Music From Memory has been responsible for many of these reassessments—and the label continues to find novel dimensions in the work of multi-instrumentalist Sáiz, from its 2016 overview Odisea to last year’s moving new album, Rainworks.
The Order of Change finds Music From Memory revisiting Sáiz’s first group from the ’80s, Orquesta De Las Nubes, a rare new age ensemble. (In early 2019, the label will reissue Sáiz’s other revered project, Musica Esporádica.) These releases contain fascinating insight into post-Franco Spain. After four decades of an autocratic dictatorship that banned cultural products seen as non-Spanish and only ended with Franco’s death in 1975, the young Sáiz’s work evinces a hunger for new sounds from beyond his country’s borders. As he put it in one interview: “The end of the ’70s and the beginning of the ’80s was a time of great openness in every way. Spain and fundamentally Madrid became centers of curiosity, interest, and respect for difference and, therefore, a breeding ground for personal expressions.” With percussionist Pedro Estevan and soprano Mária Villa also captivated by the new music they were hearing from abroad, Sáiz’s trio ranged far and wide.
Sáiz is framed as a new age pioneer in Spain, but as this ten-track set plays, certain Western influences waft into view: Brian Eno’s ambient experiments; the crystalline, contemplative sound of ECM Records; the tribal-tinged improv of Art Ensemble of Chicago; the new age landscapes of future Sáiz collaborator Steve Roach. And Sáiz’s deep debt to Steve Reich’s minimalism is evident in the pulsing marimbas, guitar, and Villa’s wordless vocals that thrum across “El Orden del Azar.” The gravity-free serenity of “Tiempo de Espera” also gestures toward Reich, but with some new wrinkles that distance it from the likes of Music for 18 Musicians. As Villa’s airy “ahhhs” slide across the volume-pedal swells of Sáiz’s guitar and Estevan’s steadfast metallophone patterns for eight majestic minutes, the music exhibits a looseness, a shape-shifting openness, and a sense of collaborative interplay that Reich’s own work lacked. It’s a fitting approach for a band whose name translates as “Orchestra of Clouds.”
The Order of Change is not all amorphous floating, though. The album’s second half traces the trio’s evolution to tribal rhythms and sleeker ’80s electronics. Estevan’s African percussion and distant vocal chants nudge these gauzy sounds forward on “Cama Diarmónica,” and digital processing gnarls his drums to create the impression of an imminent thunderstorm on “Como Un Guante.” Only the closer, “Ella no Lleva Gafas,” feels out of place. Its whammy-bar fireworks do add a bit of rock to the mix, but not without rupturing the record’s spell. Eager as they were to incorporate new influences, Orquesta De Las Nubes excelled most when dissolving those sounds into their otherwise pleasant drift.
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