Mujer de Cabaret
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2008, Volume 15, #2
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Wed February 27, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
The fingers of Puerta Plata, the 84-year-old guitarist from the Dominican Republic should be protected and declared a cultural treasure. Plata is the last surviving practitioner of the acoustic guitar style that defined the rural music from his country for decades. If he is showing any signs of slowing down, itís impossible to hear on any of the 11 tracks on Mujer de Cabaret, his staggering new outing for iASO Records.
At an age when many people are struggling simply to function, Plataís fingers dance up and down the fret board of his instrument with a level of fluidity that many younger virtuosos would have difficulty replicating. Plataís guitar style is based on the Cuban Son form, and with it, he conjures images of a world gone by as merengue and bolero phrases effortlessly glide along the strings and out into the air. The service that Ry Cooder did to the world music community over a decade ago when he introduced the Cuban sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club to a larger international audience cannot be underestimated. Although it long was considered novelty music outside Latin America, the recent availability of good quality recordings by artists like Plata has allowed the public to develop a solid understanding of the regionís traditional songs.
Plataís early life wasnít easy. He spent his teenage years with the United Fruit Company rather than in school. After a few years of laboring as a carpenter, however, he found that he had saved enough money to buy a guitar, and he soon relocated to Santiago, where he began to play music professionally in a trio. Under the right-wing dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, it was difficult for guitarists in the Dominican Republic to find work. Trujillo was fond of orchestral meringues, and he fiercely hated the guitar because he felt that it contributed to the backward impression that most outsiders held of his country. As such, guitar music was banned from the radio, and musicians like Plata had to earn a living by playing in the brothels and bars that were frequented by the urban poor.
It is possible to listen to Mujer de Cabaret in the background: The songs are pleasant and uplifting, and they are filled with glorious melodies and wonderful vocals. However, the rewards of listening closely to the material are immediately apparent when Plata stops singing and allows his guitar to speak for him. His performance is lyrical, inventive, and complex, and throughout the set, he displays a technique for improvising on a melody that would make Miles Davis and Jerry Garcia sit up and listen. The playfulness with which he not only reinvents chord sequences but also dances around a compositionís structure recalls the exuberance of a young Stephane Grappelli, when he first began to play with Django Reinhardt at the Cafť de Paris.
Itís easy to become jaded when thinking about the state of the music industry. It can seem not only like everything has been done before but also as if there is nothing new on the horizon worth hearing. The endless recycling and repackaging that has characterized popular culture for the past several decades has not encouraged the creation of sounds that are unique, challenging, or enchanting. Mujer de Cabaret, however, is a breath of fresh air; it is a tonic for tired ears.
Plataís style of playing the guitar is so breezy and free that the songs on Mujer de Cabaret seem to play through him rather than be played by him. Each trackís instrumental passage reveals a dance of the spheres to the listener that is completely unfettered and unencumbered by the physical limitations of fingers plucking strings on an instrumentís neck. The fluidity of Plataís performance simply defies belief and to consider that this album represents the work of a man well into his ninth decade is hard to fathom. This is music that will make you smile and feel better, even if nothing was bothering you in the first place. What greater recommendation can there be for an album than this? There is no finer way to get through the cold, winter months and face the coming spring than by listening to the entrancing, life-affirming material on Mujer de Cabaret.
Of Further Interest...
Mujer de Cabaret is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box