Musica Urbana
Musica Urbana


It was long ago that a usually reliable written source made me aware of the past existence of a "left-of-center" Spanish rock group called Musica Urbana: a quartet, active in the second half of the 70s, whose musical language could maybe be defined as being contiguous to jazz-rock and whose best album was said to be the one bearing the same name, recorded and released in 1976. But I got there too late for vinyl, and I never heard about a CD re-release.

I'll immediately say that Musica Urbana is a very nice album for which it's extremely doubtful that a tag like "in the jazz-rock idiom" could be appropriate (besides its being counterproductive). I'd say there are more than a few similarities to Frank Zappa's "jazz-rock", when he was in his "funky" period (say, on albums like Roxy & Elsewhere or The Helsinki Concert: it's the line-up featuring George Duke and Ruth Underwood) - just listen to the jumpy theme of the first track here, Agost, where keyboards are doubled by castanets (!) whose timbre immediately brings to mind Zappa's use of marimba. But there are also traces of Hatfield And The North - in their jazz mode, and in their more intricate moments penned by Dave Stewart (here refer to tracks Font and Caramels De Mel). Funny to notice how a group so obviously influenced by Hatfield And The North appears in some moments to predate National Health.

(If I emphasize those similarities it's not in order to diminish Musica Urbana's achievements, but to avoid those exaggerated expectations originated by announcements such as "Here for you is the (re)discovery of a revolutionary idiom that had sadly been forgotten!", those kinds of expectations leading inevitably to a let-down. This is a very good record that doesn't need any hard sell.)

Complex music, yes, but never "difficult". Intricate development and orchestrations = we welcome the limpid recording. Most compositions are by Joan Albert Amargós, who's also at center stage instrumentally: many keyboards (Steinway acoustic piano, Fender electric piano, Hohner Clavinet, Mini-Moog) and wind instruments (soprano sax, clarinet, flute, trombone). (What's a "xoulet i violins Logan"? Maybe the "violin keyboard" once made by Logan?) We also have inventive and precise drummer and percussionist Salvador Font making a nice team with bass player Carles Benavent. Not too easy to notice at first, guitarist Lluís Cabanach's work is very good. We also have those castanets by Aurora Amargós and various keyboards by Lucky Guri.

Complex music, yes, the compositions being the fruit of a long work; intricate but extremely logical developments, many themes. All qualities that match very well with a kind of "simplicity" that sounds folk-related.

I really hope that, besides being a welcome addition to the record collections of those already aware, this album is a first step to the (re)discovery of a big slice of European Rock Music that's today totally forgotten (say, from ZNR's Barricade 3 to Face Aux Elements Dechaines by Etron Fou Leloublan).

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2005 | Jan. 2, 2005