Each Caribbean country has its own Afro-Latin dance rhythms that influenced its concert music as well as its popular styles, but Venezuela's contributions have always been somewhat neglected internationally in comparison with Colombian cumbia or Dominican merengue. This survey of Venezuelan dance piano pieces by pianist Clara Rodríguez, covering short works from the late 19th century until the present day, attempts to remedy the situation. Her enthusiastic if wholly unedited booklet notes (in English only) quote guitarist John Williams: "Listen to it with two rhythms going simultaneously -- a six-eight over a three-four. To really play this, you need to do the African thing -- move your body with the complex pulse. It's not good tapping your feet like a European. There's a European influence here, but the guts of it is Indian plus African." Williams was referring to the music in general, but his statement is especially applicable to the most common genre on the album, the joropo. This rhythm is little known outside of Venezuela, and it's easy to understand why after hearing this album: if you think of the cumbia, which has become a virtual lingua franca of dance music south of U.S. Interstate 20, as the simplest of all Caribbean rhythms, the joropo may well be the most complex. As Rodríguez points out, "it consists of strongly accented rhythms and often makes use of hemiola but unlike the other Venezuelan dances, no single rhythmic pattern is associated with it"; it takes a variety of forms, all exploiting additive rhythms and hemiola tensions. Aside from the joropo there are waltzes, a merengue, a pasaje llanero, and the still more complex ritmo orquidea in Antonio Lauro's Diversión (track 11). The thematic and harmonic structure of the music is simple, setting off the tricky rhythms that appear even in the waltzes. A fascinating glimpse into one of Latin America's less-appreciated musical cultures, recommended for anyone with an interest in the music of the region.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim