Rodrigo y Gabriela – The Jazz EP

4 out of 5

Label: ATO Records

Produced by: Rodrigo (engineered, mixed by)

Not being familiar with any of the tracks which Rodrigo y Gabriela are covering on this ‘Jazz EP’ – the sister to ‘Mettal EP‘ – I could only judge based on how the renditions came across as heard for the first time. Excepting the longform Lingus on the 3-song set’s B-side, opener Street Fighter Mas and followup Oblivion sound fairly standard – close to being elevator jazz music. Perhaps this sounds bad, but when filtered through quality production, played over appropriate speakers, and touched with R & G’s organic rawness, such songs can come to life, especially when spotlit in this fashion. Now perhaps at full length, an album of compositions of this nature might wear on me, but I’m fully down for some palatable, easy-listening jazz here and there, given it’s played competently. And there’s definite variation between Street Fight and Oblivion, with the former effecting a Santana-esque groove, and the latter more typical flamenco, played at a speedy and breezy pace.

Lingus is where a new Rodrigo y Gabriela listening might have their head turned however, the 8+ minute track cut through with a modern edge, and a post-rock break in the middle before it comes back around to a surging conclusion. The far-ranging nature of our guitar duo’s approach is more apparent, and because we’ve had two more tame tracks to lead us in, it offers a favorable comparison for the closer.

And then I circled back around and listened to the originals, and my enjoyment of R & G’s takes on subsequent listens shot up about tenfold.  Kamasi Washington’s funky electronics and horns get translated to a more muted beat, pushing the guitar lines forward, which highlights the way this version tips the tone toward flamenco influences, while staying true to the flowing jazz of the original. The Astor Piazolla Oblivion is a gentle, careful thing; that “breeziness” I heard on The Jazz EP’s take is actually a huge leap forward over Astor’s pacing and tone, turning the thing into a fight song. Fun as heck. And Snarky Puppy’s Lingus is a masterwork of ensemble performance; hearing it boiled down to two primary players who maintain the spirit of the original, and somehow also port over its full-band, room-filling vibe makes it its own type of masterwork.

The Jazz EP thus is great listen either way you go about it – as “originals,” or as covers. It’s fun in the former instance, and impressive as heck in the latter.