Carlos Paredes – Guitarra Portuguesa; Movimento Perpétuo

January 01, 1970

(Drag City)


Carlos Paredes was a master of the Coimbrian guitar, a shortened,
rounded version of the instrument, strung with six sets of double wire that was
developed partly by his father, Arthur Paredes, also a famous guitarist. Born
in 1925, Paredes lived and played through one of Portugal’s most tumultuous periods,
and was jailed as a communist in 1958. While imprisoned and instrument-less, he
continued to write and develop his technique, incessantly playing an imaginary
guitar so that the guards thought he had lost his mind. His music, which
combined the rigor of classical styles with the emotionally expressive
traditions of fado, became a touchstone for the new Portugal. In 1974, when revolution
toppled the country’s dictatorship, Paredes’ music could be heard at all hours
on the radio and in the shops and cafes.


Paredes’ two best-known albums — Guitarra
from 1968 and Movimento
étuo from 1971 – are works of astonishing skill and
emotional depth, melodic
sophistication and bravura technical accomplishment.  Never available in the United States, they have been out of print even
in Portugal
since 1989.  Drag City,
most likely influenced by Ben Chasny, who dedicated 2005’s School of the Flower to the guitarist, has reissued both early
Paredes albums, with original artwork and Portuguese liner notes (and an
English translation).


Guitarra Portuguesa was
Paredes’ first full-length recording, the album that established him in 1968 as
one of Portugal’s
leading fado players. Here, playing solo guitar, he executes dizzyingly complex
melodies, accompanying the rapid-fire picking with strummed chords. The sound
of the guitar is striking. It resonates like all 12-strings do, as the extra
strings pick up and transmit an additional set of overtones. Yet the tone is
harder, more metallic and more variable than say, the 12-string hear Robbie
Basho playing. Its notes, especially the sustained ones, take an instant to
resolve themselves, shuddering mirage-like around the intended tone until they
come clear. At times, there’s an almost surf-like bend and tremolo to the
notes, a cloud of dissonance and resonance around the melodies. Yet even so,
Paredes plays with beautiful clarity and speed, plucking dizzying runs of 16th-notes,
each one separate, each one perfect. For “Dança” his fingers move with unbelievable speed and sureness,
picking out themes and counterparts so complex that it seems impossible that
one person could play them.  And skill is
only part of the package. From sprightly “Fantasia” to the melancholy and
lovely “Canção Verdes Anos” (Paredes’ first film soundtrack), extraordinary
playing never overshadows the strong emotional content of the songs.


Movimento Perpétuo came three years later, showcasing, if anything, even sharper skills. The
opening, title track dances fearlessly, at blur-speeds, over a melody of such
lightness and delicacy that visible effort, let alone error, would sink it. When
Paredes finishes, less than a minute and a half after the start, you realize
that you can breathe again in relief. Paredes had also, over the three years
since Guitarra moved further beyond
the boundaries of traditional fado. His “Variações Sob Uma Dança
Popular” may start with folk simplicity, but it evolves into the intricacy of a
Bach cantata and sounds like three or four guitars, rather than one. Late in
the album, a flute emerges to ornament two versions of “Mudar De Vida”. It’s
pretty in a 1960s-folk way but gilds the lily.

This is lovely music, masterfully played and exotic even to habitual
acoustic guitar fans because of the unusual instrument and fado influences. Before
he died in 2004, Paredes asked, like his father before him, to have his guitar
broken and buried with him when he passed away. The music, too, could easily
have been buried. Drag
City has done us all a
favor by reissuing it.


DOWNLOAD: “Canção Verdes
Anos,” “Movimento Perpétuo” JENNIFER KELLY

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