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Azahar - Azahar CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.09 | 39 ratings

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4 stars When Azahar released Que Malo Hay, Senor Juez? as a single in 1977 it was banned in Spain because it advocated the legalisation of marijuana. A further consequence was that vocalist Ricardo 'Dick' Zappala, who was of Egyptian origin, was deported. Ironic indeed, given the band's concern with ideas of freedom. However with the help of guitarist Antonio Valls, Zappala was later allowed to return to Spain under the condition that he did not enter the capital of Madrid. By all accounts crowds flocked to the few concerts they gave, such was their reputation following the above incident. Original members Jorge 'Flaco' Barral (bass) and Gustavo Ros (keys) subsequently left to form Azabache during 1978. Manolo Manrique replaced Ros, although Zappala himself also contributed in the keyboards department. Willy Trujillo, formerly of Gualberto, joined as drummer; Azahar's first album (Elixir) had featured some percussion but no drums. Barral wasn't replaced and a couple of guest musicians supplied the bass guitar here: Julio Blasco, who had appeared on Granada's Valle De Pas album, and Enrique Carmona. The song writing on this album is mainly shared between Zappala and Valls, with the other two band members having only one credit each. The music falls broadly within the Rock Andaluz category having something of a North African flavour, similar in some ways to Mezquita although the Azahar album preceded Mezquita's debut.

What we have here then is mainly symphonic prog with some Arabic/flamenco elements. One or two tracks have a slight disco feel due to some of the drumming, but overall this isn't an issue. The band employs a wide variety of keyboards but there's also more than enough excellent guitar work to keep axe victims happy. The tracks are an even mix of songs and instrumentals, although Bulerios De Lujo is basically just a drum solo. All are of a consistently high standard but three are worthy of special note. The flamenco influence really shines on Zahira. It begins with Spanish guitar and is then joined by synth and organ. Castanets begin clacking in the background, followed by doleful electric guitar phrases. Drums finally enter and join the now prominent castanets; this is really wonderful stuff as Spanish guitar trades with synth and Santana-influenced electric guitar. El Mago Acidote is another highlight and at over 9 minutes is arguably the most symphonic track on the album. It features some lovely keyboard parts, with bell-chime electric piano and funky clavinet featuring prominently. A very light fusion influence is evident here, slightly reminiscent of Gotic. The first half of the song has a warm and optimistic feel; the second half is slower in tempo with fervent vocals and organ contributing to a melancholic atmosphere. Aire Y Fuego has the strongest Arabic flavour on the album thanks to its harmonic minor scale and wailing vocals. Zappala's singing is especially noteworthy here as this is a notoriously difficult scale for vocalists. The song also features superb organ, by turns psychedelic and churchly.

Azahar was one of many fine bands from Spain during the latter half of the '70s and this is a very pleasant album that takes melodic symphonic prog and imbues it with traditional elements, full of typical Spanish exuberance. Bearing in mind that I'm a big fan of Spanish prog, I can't give this any less than 4 stars.

seventhsojourn | 4/5 |


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