I was not greatly surprised to discover that Fernando Otero is a composer. I bumped into his name while enthusiastically scanning the Joe's Pub performance calendar, and Fernando and I immediately hit it off. On his most recent album - Pagina de Buenos Aires - Otero spends a lot of time creating dramatic piano-driven songs that could variously set the mood for thrillers, comedies, or romances.
I really enjoyed listening to this album for a few different reasons. One reason was that the songs elicited an emotional response that I haven't felt so deeply since I first listened to Alan Menken's Disney soundtracks (I guess this would mean that I haven't felt this emotional about my music since last fall when I went to see Enchanted. Go figure.) Another reason that I love Pagina de Buenos Aires is that the music is just well-written. The songs have a clean quality that is not over-polished or over-instrumentalized. I find it draining to listen to music that utilizes many unusual instruments and layers loud sounds upon loud sounds. At some point, you're just making noise. Fernando Otero walks that fine line between boring and overpowering, and he succeeds in creating music that is interesting and emotionally accessible.
Enough about the album as a whole; because, although the album should be listened to as a whole composition - like the soundtrack to a movie or play - there are great individual songs that succeed particularly well in creating a specific feeling. The very first track - "Chirimbolos" - is a playful and syncopated introduction to the varied sounds that follow. "La Vista Gorda" is both South American in feel and also surprisingly Eastern European. It's a moving song, a traveling song best used as the backdrop for a Gypsy caravan. "Piringundin" is the next song that really makes my ears tingle with excitement. I recently watched Hitchcock's North By Northwest, and I personally think that "Pirigundin" would fit perfectly in the soundtrack. It sounds like danger, and it intensifies like a swiftly beating heart. "Musico del Circo" is like a mobius strip of sound. It loops upon itself in multiple dimensions, and vividly captures feelings of both playfulness and ominousness. "Calendario" is the song that I find most entertaining on the entire album. It's sad really: a sad, slow song that never drifts away from the piano. It seems to swim along the bottom of life, never really surfacing for air or sunlight, always viewing the world through a blue-green lens.
There's nothing incredibly happy to be found on Fernando Otero's album. It's a roller-coaster of emotion, but never did I come across a sound that's undeniably celebratory or even inherently pleasant and "sunshiney". It's an edgy album, that is thrilling, and funny, and lustful, and dark, and circuitous at different notes. Otero makes great music, but it may be the kind of music that you want to listen to when the snow has melted and the world is a bit less harsh.