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Congreso - Terra Incógnita CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.48 | 31 ratings

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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.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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