Ángel Ontalva - A Haunted, Hidden World of Caves

Ángel Ontalva – A Haunted, Hidden World of Caves

Ángel Ontalva is one prolific artist, seemingly releasing new music every few months, making it quite hard to keep up at times. The last release which really caught my attention was 2021’s Angel on A Tower which was a superb piece of work, as reviewed by TPA’s Nick Hudson, and this seems to me to be a close companion piece to that record. The instrumentation is similar, and two of Ángel’s fellow contributors to that record also play key roles on A Haunted, Hidden World of Caves. They are John Falcone on bassoon, clarinet and alto sax, and Victor Rodriguez on keyboards. The keyboards tend to form part of the backdrop to the sonic tapestries, although they are occasionally allowed a lead role, but they are a crucial element to these compositions. As for Falcone’s wind instruments, they simply dance all over the album, and along with Ángel’s guitar, are the stars of the show.

The music veers around from chamber pieces to short jazz rock excursions, with plenty of twists and turns in the road, but with a beating heart of accessible melodies and hypnotic beauty. I’ve heard it said that instrumental records are ‘difficult’, as if the lack of a human voice was some sort of obstacle to music consumption. I’ve never really understood that point of view, although I suppose it might be less commercial to some. However, the players (which Ángel refers to collectively as ‘The Ghost of the Cave’) seem to me to each have very distinctive voices. For example, on opening track Golden Path, Ivan Fedotov clatters delightfully around his drum kit with precision while John Falcone’s clarinet and Ángel Ontalva’s guitar pick out a beautifully optimistic sounding melody. Rodriguez plays some nice avant garde piano lines; he has a knack for playing unexpected phrases which immediately sound exactly right.

On the slower more reflective Stone Trees, I challenge anyone to tell me that Vitaly Borodin’s violin isn’t singing! His rhapsodic style is gorgeous, contrasting and complementing Ontalva’s exploratory guitar wanderings. It is as though he is exploring a new landscape, finding new musical wonders at every turn. The Smoke of Your Fire introduces Falcone’s bassoon, which defines the tone of this piece. The atmosphere of this song really reminds me of Charlie Cawood’s Blurring Into Motion album. Unusual melodies, unexpected chords and very individual playing somehow managing to be utterly compelling and spellbinding. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Tunnels is driven by Ontalva’s insistent bass and Fedotov’s percussion, whilst John Falcone plays some extraordinary bassoon, supported by the ever expressive piano of Rodriguez. It is a masterclass in succinct composition, with no room for excess baggage, and not a second wasted on indulgence. That goes for the album as a whole; the songs seem longer than they are, simply because they are jam packed with interest and extraordinary moments. From the Middle Eastern vibe of Eye of the Desert, to the return of Borodin’s sweet violin on The Lure and the Coordinates vying with Ontalva’s guitar for supremacy, there is rich colour and aural texture throughout the album. Beehive on the Wall has a busy feel, and one can imagine massed insect industry with this soundtrack, as it’s bursting with invention.

Free in the Dark Hills has to be mentioned for the featured talents of Markus Breuss whose trumpet playing brings a new dimension to proceedings on this jazzy quirky piece. It is hurtling along at speed initially, then dismantles into a reflective ending, a mood which continues on A Wide Vessel, with its relaxed feel and cinematic sweep towards the end. Finally, to close the album, a short piece featuring all three of Falcone’s wind instruments in a fabulous finale.

Anyone familiar with Ontalva’s work will know that quality is a byword, and that goes without saying here, but I believe he has surpassed himself with A Haunted, Hidden World of Caves. From his artwork to the musicians he surrounds himself with, the intricate haunting compositions and the frequent moments of virtuosity of performance from all involved, this album is just a bit special. If, like me, you find it difficult to keep up with the guy, and certain releases pass you by, just make sure that this album isn’t one of them. It’s definitely up there amongst his best work.

01. Golden Path (2:59)
02. Stone Trees (5:49)
03. The Smoke of Your Fire (4:57)
04. Tunnels (3:27)
05. Eye of the Desert (3:14)
06. The Lure and the Coordinates (5:48)
07. Beehive on the Wall (3:04)
08. Free in the Dark Hills (3:16)
09. A Wide Vessel (3:53)
10. The Place Where You Were Born (Without a trace) (2:37)

Total Time – 39:04

Vitaly Borodin – Violin (tracks 2 & 6)
Markus Breuss – Trumpet (track 8)
John Falcone – Bassoon (tracks 3,4,7 & 10), Clarinet (1 & 10), Tenor Saxophone (tracks 5,9 & 10)
Victor Rodriguez – Keyboards
Ivan Fedotov – Drums & Percussion
Ángel Ontalva – Guitar, Bass

Record Label: OctoberXart Records
Country of Origin: Spain
Date of Release: 3rd March 2023

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