CARLOS GUEDES & DESVIO - Churun Meru
By Ralph Burnett
Carlos Manuel Guedes Torres was born the 10th of December, 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela. There was never a doubt that Carlos was destined to be a musician--his parents recount Carlos singing along with the radio, (in pitch I may add), even before he knew how to talk.
By age six, Carlos was playing the national instrument of Venezuela, the four-stringed cuartro. In the course of studying both classical and traditional Venezuelan folk music, Carlos fell in love with the harp. "When I was a little kid [eight years old] I saw this folkloric harp player from Venezuela and I told my father I wanted to be like this guy--other kids tell their parents that they want to be a fireman or a policeman or... superman," Carlos laughs, "I wanted to be a harpist." Unlike the early dreams and desires that allude most children at that age, Carlos was serious enough about his dream to pay the price to make it a reality.
Carlos began taking harp lessons from a music teacher at his elementary school and had his first harp at age eleven. Through his teens he became more and more attached to contemporary jazz. "I heard my first jazz album in Caracas when I was fifteen, which was Oscar Peterson," Carols recalls, "and I remember listening to Jean Luc Ponty--I wanted to be like these guys on the harp." It wasn't long before Carlos began performing with some of Venezuela's best known ensembles.
Carlos moved from Caracas to the United States in 1979 to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. During preparations for lessons with Dorthy Ashby, the renowned harpist died abruptly. He then moved to Omaha and attend the University of Nebraska to study French, Russian, and American techniques of classical harp. It was in Omaha that Carlos met Tim Kobza who was playing guitar for the jazz ensemble at the University. Soon they formed Synco-Sound, a band that combined African rhythms with Latin and jazz, featuring the harp. As his love for jazz deepened, Carlos desired to study jazz formally. Carlos knew of Dan Haerle at North Texas State University and decided to transfer there. "I studied jazz harmony, jazz theory, I took some jazz piano lessons too," says Guedes, "I translated all that to the harp so I could learn on my own." It was at North Texas State that Carlos and Tim formed Desvio (Detour in Spanish) in 1985.
They began to perform with a variety of Texas' finest musicians. After sitting in with Desvio on several occasions, Brazilian born drummer and percussionist Tonico Vanalli, (who had been performing with a variety of bands in Austin and Dallas) joined the band fill-time in 1987.
The positive reaction to Carlos' music spread rapidly and soon he was invited to perform with such internationally renowned jazz artist as; Paquito D' Rivera, Najee, Tito Puente, Tuck & Patti, Ray Charles, Earl Klugh, Tania Maria, Dan Haerle, and David Benoit to name a few. Today, Carlos and Desvio regularly perform not only in the United States but in Europe and South America as well.
Although his exhibitive mainstay and musical love is jazz, the music traditional to Venezuela is where Carlos attributes his greatest influences. "There is a large variety of music traditional to Venezuela, depending on what region your in," says Guedes. "The music of the Caribbean is between Salsa, Calypso, and the Afro Cuban sound in the coast of Venezuela. The other kind of music [of the west coast] is a style called gaitas, originally from Lago De Maracaibo, a lake next to Maracaibo (the second largest city in Venezuela). There's another kind of music by the Andes with mandolin, guitar, flute and violin which is valse-type bluegrass in 6/8 time. In Margarita Island and the east coast they have a different type which is Galiloan and Polo-Margaritanio. We also have the African influence called the timbales (complicated rhythm) which utilizes drums of various size and shapes. Therefore, the music of Venezuela has a lot of variation and is quite difficult--not difficult harmonically; but rhythmically. And the rhythm is what makes it happen."
Carlos plays a 32-string, four-octave Sono-Lugo arpa llanera (translated "harp of the planes") named for a region located 200 miles southwest of Caracas, where it is manufactured. "I consider myself to be a contemporary, Latin Jazz harpist," states Guedes, "because I combine Jazz harmonies in a diatonic way with latin rhythms." Carlos' wife Luisa plays pandereta (tambourine) on the album. "She does not claim to be a musician," says Carlos, "but she plays percussion by ear very well. I wanted her to play at least one tune on the album even though she didn't want to; I told her if it sounds bad, we'll just take it out...but it sounded good so we left it in." (Incidently, Carlos was introduced to Luisa at North Texas State by Tim, with the surprising discovery later that she was also from Caracas).
Carlos also plays Classical Guitar, as well as a little piano, bass, clarinet, and various percussive instruments. "I play harp because I'm in love with the tone of the instrument."
"Churun Meru" (translated "Angel Falls") is the title track of Carlos' debut release for Heads Up Records. It is the South American Indian name for the world's tallest waterfall (3300 feet) which descends the Auyantepuy, a 45-mile diameter tabletop mountain (Tepui) into the lush Venezuelan jungle. "Auyantepuy" and "Churun Meru," along with all but three other songs were composed by Guedes. "The Cat From Caracas" was written for Carlos by Dan Haerle (Carlos' former teacher at North Texas). "Dan told me one day, hay Carlos, if there is a Girl From Ipanema you are the Cat From Caracas," Carlos laughs.
Carlos Guedes & Desvio have mastered a truly unique blend of traditional South American sounds with high-brow jazz and a little left over for the imagination. Next time your looking for something to break the monotony of the last ten songs you just played... take a little desvio over the Churun Meru with Carlos Guedes.