Reviewed by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Assigned by: Schuyler L.
This here is an oddity; American arranger and film score composer William S. Fischer had travelled to the Basque Country in Spain, and decided to record funky versions of their traditional songs. The name of the record couldn’t be other than “Akelarre”, which might be the only Basque loanword in the English language. The word itself comes from the words “aker”, “he-goat”, and “larre”, “meadow”, but is more accurately translated as “Witches’ Sabbath”, the place where they were supposed to perform their dark rituals, guided by Satan in the guise of a black he-goat.
Despite having such an occult title, Akelarre itself is quite lightweight. All the tracks are completely instrumental, and they have the base melodies taken from the Basque musicality, and those are usually done with the flute. The other most prominent instrument is the electric guitar, which is often very screechy, to the point where I don’t know whether it’s playing distorted folk lines, or adding new ones. Not that it matters, it is the strongest point of the record! Completing the line-up, there is a jazzy/funky rhythm section of bass and drums, nothing out of the ordinary, and some electric effects.
Now, the flaw of this approach is that, most of the time, it is too mellow to have the strength funk demands. The flutes are played in a very… “softspoken” way, that lacks the acuteness that I so love in this instrument. This problem is particularly notable in the stretch from the third to the fifth track, in which the album slogs in flimsy jazzy wallpaper. The sixth track, “Eguntto Batez”, my favourite, comes to the rescue then, and it’s almost shocking how fierce it is, specially by the halfway mark where the guitars start raging in a solo clearly inspired by Eddie Hazel! The rest of the album sits in between these two extremes, and to be fair, not even at the lowest point this is as annoying as some jazz I’ve found. The ninth track, “Xarmangarria”, is also a highlight.
The basic Basque melodies themselves are also beautiful, and the more I listen, the more I notice the traditional backbone that holds this album. I’d say this particular factor makes Akelarre a “grower”, and not as much an obvious jazz-fusion as it would have seemed. However, and this might be more of my flaw as a listener, I can’t help but feel the lack of vocals really hampers this album, and make it much less interesting than it could have been. A coarse voice singing or even chanting something in Basque would do wonders to make even the most uneventful parts more interesting! It might even bring some of the promised witchcraft to this otherwise nice album.