I have had the pleasure of reviewing a short, 6-song CD by Spanish guitarist, Rai Castells, entitled, “Impros and Films”. If you are looking for a modern, technically involved offering, this might be just what you like. He collaborates on all tracks with drummer Jordi Gardenas, a very accomplished, modern, personal accompanist and improvisor.
Track 1 is titled “Cinc”. It opens with multi-tracked loops of effects-heavy guitar riffs in a 5-note pattern (hence the title….I suppose) followed by basslines layered by the guitar. The power between guitar and drums builds quickly, leading to a melody somewhat reminiscent of a Kreisberg/Rosenwinkel feel.
Castells has a very bright, almost grating sound on this track which, if standing alone, might be a bit discomfiting, but paired with the full, deep sound of Gardenas’ drums, the tonal blend is quite positive. Castells improvises over the looped parts with thoughtful single lines, though the lines did not to me seem to be closely ties to the melody. The drums are very well integrated with the guitar on this track, and it marks Gardenas as a remarkable improv partner. I have not heard guitar and drums paired this sympathetically since a very old Joe Diorio/ Steve Bagby record I have on vinyl….yes, that old stuff.
Track 2 is called Impro #1. This is another riff-based improv; I heard no defined melody to start with, but there is great interplay between the guest piano player, Sergi Sirvent. Gardenas is especially both supportive and interactive on this track. The explorations here reminded me of some of the non-vocal selections of Henry Cow.
Though this is a guitar CD, Castells is not afraid to let the piano step to the front for long and involved statements. His unselfishness serves this music well. Castells makes skillful use of heavy delay on his guitar, which is easy to overplay and obliterate the effect. His tasteful lines let his effects work in the spaces he leaves.
Track 3 is Million Dollar Baby, the film song. Here, Castells has a very gentle, Frisellian sound and feel. The drums are again completely interactive and never get lost in the multilayered guitar tracks. I admire Castells’ ability to play over the top of so many layers of guitar lines and not be completely subsumed; not an easy thing to do, but he pulls it off.
The song builds in tension from an increasing number of looped parts, here making a very effective compositional tool. This track is a total contrast from Track 2, which was total improv, but this carefully crafted track is equally effective.
Track 4 is called Impro #2. Again, Castells has a twangy, Frisell-like sound. The tune starts rubato with a nice, full sounding sax player coming in at about 1:30”. The first couple of minutes were reminiscent of Coltrane’s “Spiritual”in its opening minutes. Rather than develop a motif or theme, the guitar and sax exchange in a spirited conversation with the drums keeping a totally separate rhythm going. As the sax builds in intensity, the drums become more and more interactive. The sax abruptly stops after building to a frenzied level, leaving the listener teetering on the edge of the cliff. Castells gently pulls you back with a return to the rubato, Frisell-infused lines back down to a safe landing.
Track 5 is the Disney favorite, “When You Wish Upon A Star”. What I wish for is a couple more tracks like this on the CD, where you can see how skillfully Castells can state a melody then build on it. Here, he has a much thinner, brighter sound again, but its almost chimey, shimmering sound fits the mood and meaning of this song perfectly. Gardenas highlights with beautiful, out-of-tempo splashes on the cymbals that really add an off-beat feel to Castells’ relatively straightforward statement of the melody. This is a very original, personal arrangement with nice counterpoint throughout. Castells shows great respect for the melody in his statement and short improv before taking the melody back out. Very nice.
Track 6 is Impro #3 with trumpet added to guitar and drums. The guitar is again very heavily processed, yet this is the most original and intriguing of Castells’ guitar sounds. The trumpet and guitar seem somewhat less interactive than the sax and guitar were, but here, the guitar takes a more traditional comping role than before; one track for everyone’s taste, I guess. The improv builds until another abrupt decrease in tempo leading to nice open-voiced chords that carry the tune out without a clear resolution.
I recommend this CD as a very good display of an aggressive, fearless group of musicians, not afraid to take chances, yet generally succeeding on all fronts. The Impros and Films CD is available on Itunes at and Castells’ website can be found here.
James Seaberry, for JazzGuitarSociety.com