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Mandala - Mark Barnwell

When it comes to Spanish flamenco style guitar players, I have a soft spot in my heart. Visiting Spain a few years back, I spent most of my time listening to Russ Hewitt’s Alma Vieja and the work of Paco De Lucia. Whenever I listen to those particular artists I can relive my adventure abroad and practically taste the sangria on my lips. This Mark Barnwell release has me longing for another journey that I can put to music.

This music transports you to another world, and does so with some excellent musicianship and captivating song structure. Barnwell’s style is very traditional, but his speed and lyrical poise adds a nice bit of flash at times. The song that best exemplifies this bravado is “Potchka”. Potchka is a Yiddish word meaning “to fool around,” and this song supplies that clownish playfulness in spades. Sounding a bit like a Romanian-style polka at times, “Potchka” is a fast-fingered foray into one of the most lyrically expressive pieces of music in the genre. The harmony parts that are played by Barnwell on guitar and violinist Jonathan Stromberg are absolutely breathtaking. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard a guitar and a violin compliment each other and meld together this well.
It’s funny that the track that follows “Potchka” is also a wonderful piece that has Barnwell and Stromberg making perfect harmonies together, but the context couldn’t be any further from what “Potchka” had offered. “Endless Rain” is a piece that is also very lyrical in its approach, but its somber tone and slower pace make it a moody and dramatic beauty.
“Moroccan Skies” is another song that breaks the traditional mold. The African drum percussion of Ramon Yslas carries the intensity of the song, while guest guitarist Jim Stubblefield lays down one of the more impressive solos on the record. The addition of the cello also adds beautiful body and feel to an already expressive piece.
“Surco Latino” or “Sahara” might be the most adventurous pieces of music on the record, though. Pianist Chris McGrath is a huge part of “Surco Latino,” as is featured musician Jean-Pierre Durand, who delivers a Gipsy Jazz sax solo that just oozes with tone and feel. On “Sahara,” Barnwell plays a fretless Spanish guitar and some keyboards, which are layered on top of an Egyptian or Middle Eastern-like tone that is enhanced by guest musician Yannaki Arrizza’s Turkish Saz and Jonathan Stromberg’s violin once again. The transcendent title track isn’t one that lacks in adventure either. “Mandala” incorporates Barnwell’s playing with McGrath’s amazing piano work once again, only this time they are joined by flautist Judy Whitlock. The addition of the flute adds yet another dimension to an album full of little surprises. 

But don’t worry, much of the record is your typical traditional Spanish guitar music, with Barnwell providing impressive fretboard runs throughout the record. Songs like “Tierra Del Fuego,” “Incendio,” and “Sundance” are very traditional and very well written. Loyalists will be pleased throughout the record with how much Barnwell stays true to the roots of the genre on these tracks.



This is a record that puts your rear end in a first class seat and transports you to an entirely different world. It may not always be the taste of sangria on my lips after going on this journey, but it is definitely something very unique and oh so tasty. 



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