With the release of their 12th album, Zona Tórrida [Selva], long-time collaborators Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah delve into Eastern European Gypsy rhythms, and produce a sound that is, in the words of Strunz, “less commercial” than previous albums.
Just don’t call it flamenco.
Although it may sound like the familiar Spanish style you know and love, the veteran guitarists describe their unique synergy as “international acoustic instrumental improvisational guitar music.” This is, they say, a completely distinct form.
“We are certainly influenced by flamenco, but no more so than, say, country, folk, or Latin music,” says Strunz. “Flamenco has very specific patterns and techniques. For one thing, flamenco is played exclusively with the fingers. Ardeshir plays only with a pick, and I use a pick and my fingers, so there’s a big technical difference right there. Plus, our sound incorporates music from the Middle East, as well as Afro-Latin rhythms that aren’t used in flamenco. I think people hear the Spanish guitar, and immediately want to label what they hear as flamenco. Unfortunately, that is a very facile assessment.”
No matter how you classify the music it contains, Zona Tórrida offers some truly exciting improvisations where both guitarists feed off each other to create free-flowing, and, at times, blisteringly fast compositions on their custom-made Pedro Maldonado guitars.
“A lot of the fast passages we play are what we call ‘patterns,’” explains Farah. “By a pattern, we mean a certain movement within a particular scale. Some of these patterns are pre-composed, and we apply them to different situations within different songs. Most of them, however, happen in the moment.”
“I always tend to improvise something fresh,” agrees Strunz. “I won’t have anything prepared—other than the first bar or so.”
Strunz also makes a conscious effort to avoid rehashing comfortable licks and runs during his improvised passages. “I’ll move patterns around the fretboard and experiment with different tempos,” he says. “With the faster things, it’s all about how you string things together and there are endless ways of doing that. The options are what keeps things exciting.”
Adrenaline junkies will appreciate the album’s faster tracks, which feature some rapid-fire passages sure to send even veteran players back to the woodshed. But although Farah counsels players who want to improve speed to practice with a metronome—which is both obvious advice and still the only sure way to work up velocity—he also emphasizes focusing on precision over speed for speed’s sake.
“It’s critical that the player know exactly what he or she is attempting to play fast,” he elaborates. “You don’t just want to move your fingers rapidly over a scale. There should be some kind of melody or melodic pattern, and every note of the passage should be clear and clean. It’s as much about knowing how that passage is supposed to sound, as it is performing the notes in a very fast way.”