Eric Fernandez

Magic Gipsy

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This zesty, rhythmically explosive disc brings Higher Octave Music's flamenco-kissed decade full circle. The label was just another little new age outlet in 1990 when Ottmar Liebert's Nouveau Flamenco became one of the first major instrumental sensations of the '90s. HO got on the map and was able to diversify into one of the best indie labels in the instrumental world. While Liebert had his critics who claimed he was just borrowing and watering down true flamenco music, Eric Fernandez offers the real, hardcore deal. The modern-day Gypsy masterfully intertwines numerous musical traditions of the Mediterranean, weaving intricate Spanish guitar melodies with Moroccan rhythms and -- talk about exotic -- the soaring voices of Sardinian shepherds. Those wordless vocals sweep over the seductive funk foundation and lighthearted guitar melody of "Adios Andalucia," then add a graceful sense of harmony to one of the more unusual cuts, the violin and accordion-strewn romance of "Shalom Israel." Much of Higher Octave's world music blends sounds from nether regions with the R&B grooves so often found in smooth jazz, and the best example of that here is the title track, which begins with Fernandez's acoustic dancing brightly over a thick shuffle before the tune breaks into rapid castanet claps and Spanish chanting. Aside from some other unique instrumentation -- including Arabian violin and cello -- Fernandez scores high marks for keeping his tunes short and to the point; each tune states its case, improvises and jams, and ends within less than four minutes. That leaves more room for new material and less repetition. One of Higher Octave's best of 1999.

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