Album Title: Danza de Andalucia
Performers: Asgeir Aarøen guitar, Bjarte Mo violin, Stavanger String Session, Saska Cvijanovic flute & piccolo, percussionists and Flamenco dancer
Label: West Audio ASG201
Playing time: 65’02"
Download: iTunes/Amazon/Spotify
Recorded: Sep 2011

An email from Norway asked if I would be interested in reviewing a new album. The sender introduced himself as Asgeir Aarøen. I made a quick search on Google which took me to quite a few YouTube videos featuring Asgeir & Mo. Yes I was intrigued. You just don’t bump into a Flamenco guitarist from Norway who composes and plays Latin music every day. And the music reminded me somewhat of Lakatos.

The CD arrived and the first thing to strike me was that heated-up live performance feel and riveting sound quality. It put me at the front table in a club within 15 feet from the dance floor. The immediacy has a lot to do with the band’s playing. Everyone is hooked together in the same improvisational pulse. All thirteen tracks are tuneful and rhythmic. The 39-year old guitarist/composer Asgeir Aarøen has a natural gift for melody and dance beat. The two elements are simply inseparable, be it a fast whirling or slow melancholy number.

The musical style embraces Latin and beyond. In fact the music is quite removed from Albeniz, Granados or Turina. The album title Danza de Andalucia does not limit itself to a Spanish location. If we trace back in time, Andalusia was probably the world’s first multinational hub in history. Its capital Córdoba was built by the Romans and in the 10th century became the largest city in the world. Before the birth of Flamenco music and bull fights. the place was the nurturing ground for the Moorish tradition as an amalgamation of Jewish, Islamic and Christian cultures.

So apart from Flamenco don’t be surprised if you think you savour some Klezmer or Middle Eastern flavors. The real puzzle is how on earth Asgeir & Mo and their Scandinavian friends—well, mainly—could capture the mood so well. Another fascinating thing is how some tracks have a more than subtle South American aura. I know music culture has been crossbreeding for centuries. It’s impossible for South American music to disown its parentage from Spain. But if you watched The Motorcycle Diary you know why I tried so hard to pinpoint that "couldn't help it" nostalgic feeling. The joyous moments appear to be sober but are in fact so drunk. The sad moments are masked with drunken words but actually deep down sober. This CD reminds me of many of those moments. For instance "Your Hands in Mine", "Night in Netanya", "Memories of Enerhaug" and "Towards Midnight" in one way or another lead me to my fondest moments of The Motorcycle Diaries. Until I read the booklet I didn't realize that Asgeir wrote "Memories of Enerhaug" as a tribute to his father. "Cry from the Andes" is the most nationalistic piece not just for its name. The wonderful orchestration doesn’t involve Bolivian zampona but I still thought I heard one in there.

There’s no thoroughbred Spanish in the vocabulary of Asgeir & Mo. "Summer Flirt", "On the Beach" and "Danza de Andalucia" sound quite pure at the onset but then transfuse into either Latin American or Middle Eastern syntax. Especially the Flamenco dance section of "Danza de Andalucia" intermixed with a seductive Bacchanale rhythm literally reminded me of my favorite exotic CD Salome by Roque Baños. Likewise "Arabian Samba" is one colorful medley and "Walkabout" a potpourri sprinkled with Flamenco tabasco.

Asgeir Aarøen handles his guitar with deft fingers and expressive sensations, Flamenco being his focus although he also plays classical. Bjarte Mo came from a classical background but fell so in love with Irish and Middle Eastern music that he formed a band called Tea in Sahara. Friends joining them on this album are classical flautist Saska Cvijanovic, Latin percussionists Gabriel Chicaiza and Eddie Andresen, jazz bassist Magus Rod Haugland and Flamenco dancer Noelia Sabarea from Spain. You’ll hear her fascinating footwork and castanet. The last two tracks are the purest leisure music of the album. "Stroll Along the River" is Aarøen’s memory of a fiddler friend. "Summer Song" is a beautiful ballad sung by Aina Schold telling of a sweet romance that comes to an end but looks forward to a reunion the next year.