Poetry in rhythm

April 13th, 2011

Many years ago, I think it was 1979, I was browsing the Wellington Public library in NZ when I saw a new record by some unknown guitarist by the name of Manuel Barrueco.

I borrowed the record, brought it home, put it on my turntable, and to use an old tired cliché, it literally knocked my socks off. I had never heard such musicianship on the guitar.

Here’s one of the tracks I heard. Today, when I hear it, it still sounds as fresh and as exciting as when I first heard it over thirty years ago.

What’s so exciting about this performance?

Here’re the first three bars.

Notice the rhythm. It’s pretty plain, 1 quarter note followed by 2 eighth notes, followed by quarter note, followed by 2 eighth notes etc.

Lesser musicians will play these notes strictly in time but not Barrueco. Listen to the subtle rhythmic inflections he puts into all the notes, esp. the eighth notes. He doesn’t play them squarely on the beat. He pushes some of the notes and he relaxes others. In other words, he makes these notes come alive.

And notice the resolutions. He pushes the phrases to a high point and then he lets them resolve, like letting out a sigh, completely effortless.

Try taking the score in hand and conduct with it, and then try to conduct to Barrueco’s recording. It will be a revelation. You will hear things that you never knew were there before.

The most amazing thing about the recording is that it’s totally devoid of all the usual guitar affectations that were common in guitar players at the time, even in big name stars — the sudden inexplicable accents, the equally sudden inexplicable accelerandos and ritardandos etc.

There’s no other way to describe it, — it’s pure poetry in rhythm.

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