A Spanish musician and master of the 5 string banjo, Lluis Gomez could be considered something of a phenomenon, especially in a musical arena where there are few other ethnic artists quite like him. Nevertheless, he’s won considerable praise from his peers. Alison Brown said of him, “With a keen ear for melody and technique to spare, Lluis forges a musical path all his own and the result is a delight. I’m proud to call him my banjo brother.”
She’s not the only one to share her kudos. Tony Trishka, Pete Wernick and others have invited him to share their stages and offered additional homage as well. However, it’s best to hear the evidence for one’s self, an opportunity allowed with full flourish on his new LP Dotze Contes. An all-instrumental set of songs, it fully embraces his fascination for the banjo and the possibilities it offers. And while shades of bluegrass inform it all, the solid picking, subtle shadings and various instrumental accoutrements – guitar, mandolin, harmonica and double bass – fill in the spaces between the notes and allow for the sound of a fully fleshed out ensemble.
Granted, instrumental outings don’t always offer interest enough to carry an entire effort from beginning to end, but Gomez has overcome that difficulty by varying the musical fare. Salviac Waltz for example boasts a melodic Mediterranean flare as illuminated from the south of Spain. The beautiful Tree O House slows the tempo and finds things in a more meditative mood, thanks in part to the mournful cello that underpins it all. Still, the exuberance is evidenced throughout, from the lively strains of opening number Virton 2014 and the Bela Fleck-like invention of Pour Jean-Marie to the rousing revelry of Nofuentes BB&B, Devil’s Dream, and Pony Express. And lest anyone doubt his flair for authenticity, Foggy Mountain Banjo Medley and Rocky Mountains ought to remedy their uncertainty immediately.
Spoiler alert: stay tuned for the bonus track that ends it all, a meditative read on Wonderful World.
While the description given above might suggest this is a wholly banjo driven record – there are no less than five banjo pickers taking part here after all – to Gomez’s credit he’s extremely generous in sharing space with the other players involved. As a result, Dotze Contes comes across as well balanced and full of verve, a record in which no single player dominates but rather all contribute to a combined whole. Note the countdown to the jaunty Nola or the shift in tone and texture that makes the atmospheric Bel’s Reel such a stunning display of dexterity and ingenuity.
It would behoove a domestic label to make Gomez’s recordings widely available Stateside and to invite him to Nashville where he could further share his wares. For now however, Dotze Contes is well worth whatever effort it takes to seek it out. Suffice it to say, banjo has never sounded better.