Victor Herrero: Astrolabio
Feeding Tube Records

Spanish guitarist Victor Herrero brings a storied past to this collection of solo Portuguese guitar settings. As a boy, he spent four years as a member of an ensemble of resident boy singers at a monastery west of Madrid (where he also took up the guitar) and later played in assorted group contexts, with a band called Cicely, for one, and most famously with singer-songwriter Josephine Foster, a long-term partnership that began in Chicago and eventually took them to various locales in Spain. During a Lisbon visit, Herrero acquired a Portuguese guitar, a distinctive looking and sounding twelve-string instrument with a teardrop-shaped body that's generally associated with the traditional style known as fado. But, as one would expect from a player who's performed with Keiji Haino and the Master Musicians of Jojouka, Herrero isn't one for adhering to tradition. Instead, he severed the instrument from its past in order to fully explore its potential as a sound-generator. Astrolabio documents, then, the natural outcome of that mission in six wide-ranging pieces.

Were one not to know otherwise, one would likely take the opening flourishes of “Tibi seris, tibi metis” for that of a hammered dulcimer, so bright and glittery is the Portuguese guitar's dazzle during the ten-minute setting's intro; soon enough, however, the strums, curlicues, and finger-picked melodies that eventually dominate indicate that a guitar-like instrument is being played. Herrero moves expertly between breezy folk passages and ethereal textural clusters, his ease with the instrument evident at each moment, and in one section his playing takes a deliciously funky turn before picking up speed and racing forth at a breathless gallop. At such times, the strings shimmer radiantly, and the listener can't help but be carried away by the high energy of his playing and the controlled ecstasy it induces.

He often uses the body of the guitar to produce an earthy, North African-tinged rhythm to accompany his dizzying flurries, and during “Fulgor,” arguably the album's boldest exploration, slide effects and shudder suggest ties to everything from theremin and steel guitar playing to‘60s guitar psychedelia and swampy blues straight from the Mississippi Delta. Adding to that occasionally psychedelic quality are unusual tunings that emerge in pieces such as “Trémulo” and “Ondulina,” though they generally crop up throughout the recording. Regardless of differences in style and mood between the six settings, it's easy to be won over by Herrero's particular brand of delirium.

January 2017