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Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Congreso are another band I was introduced to on Progarchives, and one I took an almost instant liking to. There are inevitable comparisons to their fellow countrymen Los Jaivas: both bands have been around for forty years or so; both play a progressive style of folk music that is highly influenced by their Chilean ethnic roots; both record music that tends to both celebrate life and to make the occasional social statement; and both employ quite a bit of traditional Chilean instrumentation in their music (charango, marimba, tarka, 12-string guitar, tom toms, rondador) as well as more common modern instruments like electric guitar and bass, drums and synthesizers.

But there are differences as well. Congreso tends to focus on more traditional folk arrangements, particularly on their early albums, and many of their songs are either adopted from or inspired by these older tunes. Los Jaivas on the other hand quickly moved toward a heavier use of modern instrumentation and more symphonic prog arrangements in their music. Both styles are highly appealing to prog and folk fans, but the differences give us something to celebrate in each of their sounds.

This second album from the band was released early in the reign of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Los Jaivas were forced during this period to leave Chile at some point, but I don’t find any indication Congreso had the same types of problems for some reason; maybe a Chilean student of that period reads this and has more details. At times the sound on the album crosses well into beautiful but rather simple folk territory, and at others there is an obvious attempt at popular appeal. But for the most part the band seems to be engaged in taking melodic, traditionally-inspired folk arrangements and embellishing them with loads of ethnic instrumentation, great singing, and fair-hearted lyrics.

Despite pointing out the differences between the bands above, I find the opening track reminds me quite a bit of Los Jaivas. The flute and sometimes recorder are prominent; the arrangement is highly melodic with embellished Latin percussion and a simple rhythm; and the vocals are emotive without being overdone. I’ll probably offend some Latin readers here, but I have to say one of the consistently distracting traits of many Hispanic male singers is their lack of restraint when injecting emotion in their singing. There’s something to be said for subtlety, and singer/lyricist Francisco Sazo has an amazing talent for giving soul to his singing without crossing the line to maudlin. I don’t hear a single vocal passage on this album that isn’t outstanding – Sazo is one of the most developed Hispanic male vocalists I’ve heard in a long time.

“Romance” sounds just like the title: acoustic, lots of flute and recorder, predominantly instrumental with just a few wispy vocals to open and close the song, and tasteful percussion along with the emergence of the distinctively charming charango strings. Not really progressive, but a very pleasant folk number.

The intro to “Los Maldadosos” sounds remarkably like an After Crying tune, with discordant strings, sustained woodwind (recorder I believe), and a couple of scattered and haphazard drums rolls before passing through some acoustic Latin percussion and fat bass into a lumbering and hypnotic chant accented with cello and a full complement of backing vocals. This is one of the stronger compositions on an already impressive album.

Next up the band shows their Latin emotion on the languid and ballad-like acoustic “Canción de la Veronica”, a tune that sounds like a lot of the 60s and 70s Latin crooners my wife introduced me to early in our marriage. White guys just can’t make music like this…

And then the band launches into a sort of martial rhythm punctuated by whistles, recorder, flute, percussion and strings on the more traditional folk instrumental “El Torito”, followed the just as folksy and upbeat “Tus ojitos”. This one has a nice recorder intro and plenty of charango strumming and picking that give the tune an airy and melodic feel. Again, not very proggy but a great folk song.

“Juego” is all about the cello, one of my favorite instruments and a natural fit for Latin-flavored folk music. The pace is slow and the 12-string and charango meld with Sazo’s mournful vocals to yield something that sounds like it would have made a good soundtrack tune for an Italian spaghetti Western movie. Very nicely done and mildly romantic.

My favorite track on the album is “Quenita-violín” in which the rather simple string chords are repeated with a few woodwind and drum breaks and a building percussion elaboration that overall just makes you feel better after hearing it then you did before. The mark of a great composition!

The rest of the album is split between more mellow acoustic folk songs (“Vuelta y vuelta”, “Canción de boda “, “Canción de reposo”); and a few more modern-sounding tracks with heavier use of electric guitar and bass and more European-flavored drums (“El oportunista”, “En río perdí la Voz”). These all combine to show both the band’s range, as well as the breadth of their influences.

Regrettably the album finally comes to a close, ending with the slightly poppy “Entre la gente sencilla” that manages to finish strong with an energetic drum and guitar passage that has unmistakable psych influences wrapped around it. A great if somewhat surprising end.

I’m looking forward to hearing more of these guys in the future, and here’s hoping that all their albums have such strong arrangements, lively rhythms, and elaborate instrumentation. This is a very solid four star effort, and is highly recommended to prog folk, world, and Latin music fans alike. Well worth the trip.


Report this review (#144345)
Posted Saturday, October 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars An old folk band from Chile!

This South- American country has a lot to offer musically speaking, they have several iconic bands from the seventies that have inspired so many newer acts from the same country, and from other countries, especially the ones who speak Spanish. When someone says "a progressive rock band from the seventies and from Chile" it is kind of mandatory to think about Los Jaivas, that's normal due to its brilliance and legacy; but there was another huge band called Congreso whose importance was big in the Chilean scene.

Congreso was formed in the late 60s and despite it is mainly a folk band, they also took some psychedelic elements that were combined in some albums with those folk and traditional elements. The music is mostly acoustic and I bet some people may doubt about their progressiveness, and it is understandable due to its evident folk and native sound. They released a debut album in 1971 and two years later in 1973 they created "Terra Incógnita" the album I will review.

The album features fourteen compositions, all of them are short (3-4 minutes) making a total time of 45 worth listening minutes. The opener track "Dónde estarán" is an excellent song which in my opinion works as a perfect example of the music of Congreso. Those folk elements, acoustic guitar, flute, etc., and the sweet vocals are actually part of that Chilean sound of the 70s, that was also used by other non-progressive acts such as Inti Illimani or Quilapayun.

A thing I like about this album is that despite its fourteen tracks, you don't feel tired because all of them are short and consistent, there is not a fracture on the music, no highs and lows, in a few words, I believe you like it or not, I mean you will not say "I liked two or three tracks" no, those songs comprehend a body and this time you either like the complete body or simply dislike.

In music, personally speaking, I don't pay much attention to the words and lyrics, however I like Congreso's lyrics, they are beautiful and disarming at the same time, representing the life in Chile and the personal thoughts of the band. "Tus ojitos" is a track I love singing, one of my favorite also because of the flute sound.

"Juego" is another beautiful track, one of the proggiest ones without a doubt, the bass, flute and other string instruments compose a wonderful atmosphere in where you can close your eyes and enjoy what is happening inside your mind. At half the song there is a cello who adds a dramatic sound, later drums enters and there is also a guitar solo. "Quenita y violin" is a short instrumental track, but sometimes you just need a minute to show what your music is about, and yeah, this is another example of the traditional folk sound of Congreso and Chilean folk in general.

My favorite tracks besides the previously mentioned are: "En Río perdí la voz", "Los maldadosos" and "Canción de reposo". There are in my opinion no fillers in this album, and actually no weak tracks, though of course there are a couple I enjoy less, but anyway remember that body structure I mentioned, well I like it.

Terra Incognita is an album I like and really enjoy when I listen to it, the thing is that I don't use to listen to it frequently because it is not my favorite type of music. If you are a folk lover then you should totally listen to Congreso, if you are familiar with Los Jaivas and traditional Chilean music then you know what I am talking about, if not, I invite you to explore this side of music, no matter its prog content, which in my opinion exists, but does not predominates here. My personal grade would be four stars, but for PA I believe 3 is more accurate.

Enjoy it!

Report this review (#415252)
Posted Sunday, March 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Congreso rapidly built some fame in Chile and kept producing singles as of 1972, while they even entered the studio to record a sophomore album in 1973.Their plans for a release though have to be cancelled due to the military action against president Salvador Allende in September 1973, even if most of the album was already finished.Remaing in the country despite the flaming atmosphere, Congress recruited flutist Renato Vivaldi as the sixth official member of the group and in 1975 their long-awaited album ''Terra Incognita'' sees a major release on London Records, even passing the Atlantic Ocean to reach the markets of Europe in Portugal.

''Terra Incognita'' is a strange album, even if it sounds considerably upgraded compared to the band's debut musically speaking.While there is a stronger addition of traditional Folk vibes in plenty of the tracks and the emotional singing lines remain a trademark of the group, some of the inspiration on the acoustic compositios seems to have faded.Even this way their Andean-influenced Prog Folk is still charming and enganging with romantic passages, intense lyrical moments and even some acoustic instrumental virtuosity, characterized by the impressive flute work of Vivaldi.On the other hand the upgraded instrumental seeds couldn't have resulted to some nice tasty fruits.Congreso have chosen to offer some prominent electric tunes in their new album with a more pronounced rhythm section and they even added some jazzy underlines in their music.As a result the music component of the album is more diverse.There is a good combination of modern instruments with the traditional ones, like charango, pipes, flutes and cello to result an attactive Folk Rock with alternatic acoustic and electric parts, especially during the flipside of the original LP, while the instrumental themes are often very intricate.Still the vocals hold a main role with clean and expressive performances by Francisco Sazo.

A bit of an uneven album, which, even so, holds a great interest till' its very end.Romantic Latin-American Prog Folk with captivating acoustic crescendos, light electric textures and sensational vocals.Recommended.

Report this review (#1125377)
Posted Friday, January 31, 2014 | Review Permalink

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