Carlos Parede - "Variacoes em Re Maior" (Guitarra Portugues)
The Portuguese guitar, with its six double corses of steel strings, rings out with a tone that can be at once brashly metallic and warmly resonant — perfect for its role as both accompaniment and second voice to the singing of fado, Portugal’s great and poetic tradition of heart-broken popular song. Like his father, Artur Paredes, Carlos Paredes was a virtuoso of the instrument, and in the 1960s he released Guitarra Portuguesa, an album of his own compositions that took fado as the starting point for a rigorous and dynamic expression of something quite new.
Paredes’s grounding in the Coimbra tradition served this adventurous new music well. His awesome technique never led him away from the essential balance of intense emotion and poetically expressive intellect at the heart of fado. Guitarra Portuguesa is a deep and astounding masterpiece of string music, revealing an articulate and powerful flow of melodic and rhythmic variation. Paredes plays with a preternaturally elastic sense of tempo and phrasing, but most of all, he inhabits each note and silence, commanding respect and attention, as he spins through unforgettable tunes and rhythmic strophes.
The 1971 album, Movimento Perpetuo, is, as the title hints, shaded more toward a baroque sort of formalism in compositional approach. Here, fast and elegant arpeggios, broken melody figurations and symmetry of line play a more prominent role. It’s not that Paredes — or his accompanists on standard guitar and, occasionally, flute — sacrifices emotional presence or heart-catching turn of phrase; it’s just that these works have, perhaps, more spark and dazzle than do the warmer, more songlike pieces on the earlier record.
There’s no doubt that Paredes deserved his nickname of “the man with a thousand fingers.” More importantly, though, is that like any great singer, horn player or poet, he honored the power and elegance — the human expression — that emerges when an artist is fully devoted to breath, timing and a sense of surprise.