Norberto Lobo: Fornalha
Three:four Records

Fornalha, a collection of five solo instrumentals by acoustic guitar player Norberto Lobo from Lisbon, is, in a word, enigmatic. The first two pieces sound as if they might have been recorded in some ramshackle hut at a remote backwoods locale (the primitivist character of the opening songs is also reinforced by a stark achromatic package design and a striking cover photograph taken in Sri Lanka in 1994); the fourth setting, on the other hand, includes a passage that suggests a pronounced Philip Glass influence, while the fifth is a long-form composition whose multi-layered structure exemplifies a marked degree of sophistication. Put simply, there are moments on the recording—short by CD standards at thirty-four minutes—that suggest the work of a number of different artists than one only.

The title track inaugurates the recording with six minutes of bowed guitar playing that one would take for bowed cellos if one didn't know otherwise. As ear-catching as the insistent bowing is, what's ultimately most striking about the piece are its chord progressions and melodies, the latter of which grow more noticeable when Lobo's gentle, high-pitched voice chimes in, wafting above the bowing without a care in the world. “Maryam” presents Lobo obsessively picking his guitar in somewhat of a psychedelic country-blues style, his attack offset by synthesizer-like flurries, until the bow returns for one more session of intense sawing.

A dramatic change in mood arises with the advent of “Fran,” which serenades the listener with a series of lovely melodic progressions that are as stirring as they are quietly uplifting. The lilting “Pen Ward” initially perpetuates the delicate tone of “Fran” with nostalgic reflections before gaining momentum in its closing minutes with subtly modulating melodies and cyclical patterns strongly reminiscent of early Glass. At album's end, “Eu Amo” initially revisits the style of the opener in its combination of bowed guitar patterns and wordless singing before waves of trippy flourishes appear, paving the way for Lobo to play one final acoustic guitar solo. Fornalha proves once again that, in the proper hands, nothing more than imagination, creativity, and a guitar are needed to command a listener's attention.

December 2014