Dani Vargas Group – ‘Sound On Canvas’ Album Review

sound-on-canvas-album-cover

There’s only one possible adjective that can spring to mind when you encounter the sultry, funky rumbling of Carlos Soriano’s bass on the intro to the steaming ‘suspension’ and that adjective is ‘cool’. It’s an ill-defined and highly subjective term to be sure, but one that perfectly describes Carlos’ exemplary work. He is the ice to Dani Vargas’ fire; and what fire that is. This trio, named for their guitarist, showcase the innate lyricism that sits at the heart of every good guitar solo and demonstrates that it is possible to say much via an instrumental album where the musicians are content to let their instruments do the talking. Hence you find Carlos, on the majority of these tracks, grooving away, nimbly running over his fret board with a glacial calm that dramatically counterpoints the blistering work of Dani whilst Moises Zapata provides a backbeat that is both rock solid and imbued with the freedom that comes from years of listening to, and playing, jazz.

It’s hard to know what is more remarkable about ‘sound on canvas’ – whether it is the playing that runs through the whole disc or the fact that this is the group’s debut full-length album (it having been preceded only by two EPs) despite the level of confidence and proficiency on display. Whatever amazes you first, however, will soon subside simply to a sense of wonder that a group can maintain such creative flow over twelve tracks that perfectly recreate the dark heat of Texas via a series of imaginative pieces. ‘The trip’, for example, with its rumbling drums and wah-soaked guitar runs draws you on a journey through a dark, humid valley whilst thunder rumbles menacingly overhead. From the fading drums at the end it is clear you make it to shelter just in time before the storm breaks. The balm to such a frenetic chase is the lovingly detailed ‘portrait in blue’ which gives plenty of room for Carlos to shine before Dani enters with a solo that is slow and laden with personality, even taking on a Clapton vibe as the track progresses. Keeping the pace restrained, ‘someday’ is a funky workout that has a bouncy vibe to it, although things heat up considerably as Dani’s solo work becomes increasingly fast paced and shot through with tension and energy.

The tension hinted at in the previous track ignites on the rip-roaring ‘colours’ which bursts out of the traps with a rippling drum roll and a thunderous disco-beat backdrop. It’s like witnessing Hendrix jamming on Saturday night fever and the solos pour like molten metal from the speakers before slipping straight into the soulful ‘Above the city’, a soaring highlight that melds some truly awe-inspiring solos with a subtle backdrop that allows Dani plenty of sonic canvas upon which to paint. The whole band then draw breath and collectively leap into ‘tracks in motion’, a heavy rocker that blazes with fire and fury, although never at the expense of melody. The title track is one of the shortest on offer here despite its thought-provoking name, and it simmers gently in a miasma of jazz fusion brush strokes and innovative percussion. ‘Brush of blues’ is short and sweet (clocking in at a brief 1:16) and , with its delicate slide guitar work, it recalls the arid heat of the desert baking on long-desiccated pathways before the band return to the fray with the scorching road-rock of ‘road to nowhere’. The final track on the record is ‘burnt sienna’, a title as evocative as the music it represents, and it allows the band to draw things to a soulful close, Dani’s guitar once again dripping with soul and emotion.

Albums such as this are few and far between – the world of instrumental music is necessarily a niche one given the level of talent needed to sustain a career – and as a result Dani Vargas’ work is special indeed. The intrinsic linking of music and art via the title is a worthy one, and across these twelve tracks you learn much about these three exemplary musicians, so much of their heart and soul do they instil in the music. It is not an album for everyone, to be sure, if you’ve yet to listen through to a full instrumental work such as this, prior listening is certainly recommended; but for those who praise virtuosity and admire the philosophy behind festivals such as Eric Clapton’s Crossroads, this album offers an awful lot to admire and absorb. Dani’s playing, in particular, is laden with personality; so much so that having spent enough time in the album’s company you’ll feel like you know the man. He makes his solos soar and sigh, weep and spit fury, across the course of the album, and such a talent is a rare one shared by few. Ultimately this elegant, engaging record is a triumph and one that you will certainly return to on numerous occasions.

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