In the last decade, Rodrigo y Gabriela released a trio of studio albums that blend traditional Spanish guitar influences with traditional metal influences. These albums did not contain a bevy of original material as re-Foc was a re-recording of previous material, Rodrigo y Gabriela featured covers of Led Zepeplin and Metallica, and 11:11, the only album containing wholly original tracks, is billed as a tribute to 11 musicians that inspired the pair throughout their career.
On Rodrigo y Gabriela’s new release, Area 52, the duo is joined by a 13-piece Cuban musical collective known as C.U.B.A.. Although Area 52 is the twosome’s first studio collaboration with other musicians, the record contains no new material as all nine tracks are rearrangement’s of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s previous works. For those playing at home, Area 52’s final track “Tamacun” previously appeared on Rodrigo y Gabriela’s 2006 self titled album, 2008’s Live at Japan, and 2011’s Live in France.
Given that every track on Area 52 appears on a previous Rodrigo y Gabriela studio album and some appear on at least one live album, Area 52 feels astonishingly fresh. The pair’s first foray into studio collaboration reads like a who’s who of the world music community: Flamenco and Jazz bassist Carles Benavent (Paco de Lucia and Miles Davis), Sitarist Anoushka Shankar (daughter of Ravi Shankar and half-sister of Norah Jones), Percussionist and musical director Samuel Formell (Cuban orchestra Los Van Van), and Drummer John Tempesta (The Cult, Testament, White Zombie) appear as part of C.U.B.A..
Rodrigo y Gabriela employ the talents of producer Peter Asher and arranger Alex Wilson to reconstruct and rejuvenate a catalogue of songs that is half a dozen years old. Asher and Wilson expertly breath new life into the Rodrigo y Gabriela collection by blending the Latin jazz element of C.U.B.A. with the district Rodrigo y Gabriela sound.
The resulting Rodrigo y Gabriela/C.U.B.A. fusion rarely sounds unwieldy as Asher and Wison never force the acoustic guitars to compete with the bombastic orchestra. The collaboration suggests that these tracks are so organic that they can be manipulated in ways that bare little resemblance to their original form yet still retain the Rodrigo y Gabriela spirit.