Landscapes are a powerful source of inspiration. You don’t have to listen long to Elizabeth Naccarato’s A Southwest Story before you sense that her love for this part of the country is deep and genuine. The album communicates the culture and history of the Southwest in a way that is both interesting and enjoyable. Naccarato and her talented friends have delivered an album – or perhaps story is a better word – that makes the listener reflect on the relationship between the land and the people who live there. A Southwest Story is a heartwarming journey in music and culture you don’t want to miss.
A native Texan, Elizabeth Naccarato began her piano studies at the age of six at the Dominican Convent in Houston. She won her first piano competition at the age of nine. Later, she was a Piano Performance major at the University of Southern California where she earned her degree. She joined the Annie Wright Schools faculty in 1999 and has been an affiliate faculty at The University of Puget Sound since 1989. Her most recent recordings are History (2010), and Souvenir d’Italia (2016).
A Southwest Story features Leon Christian on guitar and bass, and Nancy Rumbel on Native flute and English horn.
The album opener is called San Luis. Its welcoming sound greats the listener like an old friend. The slow piano and guitar duet is terrific! It sets the mood for the whole album. Notice the wonderful hint of melancholy, which might indicate a reflection on the proud history of this city and part of the country. San Luis is, in short, a magnificent start to the album!
You can’t talk about the history of the Southwest without mentioning horses. There are even two horses on the cover! The following piece does an outstanding job of describing untamed, wild horses. The deep Spanish influences are easy to sense, both on the piano and violin. The percussion is also nice, capturing the essence of the warm climate.
Next out is Sacred Land. The flute connects us with the history of the indigenous people in this part of the country. The piano and oboe join in brilliantly. It is a slow and reflective piece. Its sad tone moves the listener and it is impossible not to think of all the changes this land has endured. The long fade-out set the stage for something completely different: Mi Hito, No! and Fandango, composed by Federico Moreno Torroba. The Spanish influences are delightful and showcase the historical roots of the people who first came to these parts of the country.
One of the finest pieces on the album is Brown Eyes. It features a unique mix of instruments and rhythms. It is easy to get swept away; it is impossible to tell where this is going to end. Spanish Dance (The Spanish Dance No. 2 by Enrique Granados) – is slower and more thoughtful, although it too has a nice sense of movement and grace.
La Sierra is a bit brighter, backed by a wonderful xylophone. There is so much atmosphere here that I always find myself putting it on replay – it is a true piano jewel! The same is true for Shrine of the Stations of the Cross, which instead of a xylophone features a sorrowful flute.
Now it is time for The Vega, a beautiful ballad. I love how it twists and turns, showing Naccarato’s technique and gift as a pianist. The melody in Dusk takes off from the first few notes, warm and comforting. Piano, violin and guitar sound terrific together. Another highlight on the album is Cowboy’s Waltz. The happy tune always makes me smile; these cowboys sure can dance! The playful atmosphere is delightful.
Last out is Flower Moon. It is a thought-provoking piece with a neoclassical touch. It condenses the magic and mystery of the May moon into three and a half minutes of music. With such a magnificent ending, going back to this round-trip’s start, San Luis, seems like the only option.
In conclusion: As a fan of Elizabeth Naccarato’s previous material, I knew that her material cannot be classified as background music. It requires active listening, and A Southwest Story is no exception. I quickly found myself moving from loudspeakers to headphones in order to appreciate its every detail, especially on the tracks that were not solo piano only. The album demands something from you. But when you “tune in” and give it the attention it deserves, the landscape and people it contains come to life with incredible clarity. I had the same experience with Souvenir d’Italia, which I recommend that you also check out.
I very much like the recording and how the listener can sense air between the instruments and the microphone. It gives the feeling of being at a concert. The album is also very well balanced with lots of variation in sound and expression.
A Southwest Story by Elizabeth Naccarato is, in short, a fantastic, enjoyable and heartfelt voyage in music. Highly recommended!
For more information and music samples, visit elizabethnaccarato.com.
Also, see the press release by The B Company.