The music of Venezuela, especially from the region of the Orinoco River, is rich with the transcultural influence of Spanish song and dance, Indian chant, and African rhythm. Cheo Hurtado, a master musician and academic dedicated to preserving the music from the 16th century to the present, has assembled a program of instrumentally illustrating choreographies of everything from waltzes to merengues, including joropos, polo orientales, parrandas, gaitas, fandangos, pasajes, and a few traditional songs as well. The instruments he has chosen are all rooted deep within the region, the cuarto, a four-course (string) guitar, maracas, and the bandola, a double four-course (eight-string) instrument that is a cross between the guitar, the bass, and the mandolin. The bandola used by Hurtado is particular to the region, and is called the bandola guayanesa. While many perceive Spanish music to be romantic and mournful, they forget that Latin American music in general has few of these qualities. Hurtado is interested in showcasing the dances of his region, and he plays the living hell out of his instruments. This is a record of hot jams, fiery finger-style picking, deep rhythms -- yes, on maracas -- and lightning-quick chord changes and time signatures. From the 3/4 and 6/8 of the waltzes and the joropos to the 5/8 of the parrandas and the merengues, Hurtado has them down cold, sending fans of instrumental string music into a tizzy of excitement and panting with his visionary displays of virtuosity on all three instruments. The deal is this: If this music is old, then the civilizations of the past must have had a hell of a good time and been in great shape because, as dance music, this music reaches deep into the physical body for reserves of energy and, yes, passion.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek