Over the last few decades, Argentine musician-producer Gustavo Santaolalla has established his reputation as a musical paradox-a progressive traditionalist who fuses influences from around the world while bringing it all home. On his beguiling album RonRoco (Nonesuch 79461; 41:41), Santaolalla seems to seamlessly bridge stylistic worlds, with a vocabulary that evokes the spirit of his homeland, the rolling spirit of Portuguese fado, and qualities of Eastern European and Japanese music-and it was recorded in the port of Los Angeles.
The ronroco is a small stringed instrument similar to, but larger and deeper-sounding than, the South American charango, and Santaolalla plays it along with multiple other instruments in rippling, multi-tracked layers, and is joined on vibraphone and melodica by Anibal Kerpel and, on "Pampa," by Jaime Torres' charango. Bittersweet melodies and recognizable folk forms arise, but the strongest impact of the album is its ethereal, experimental spirit. In short, Santaolalla has created an atmospheric tone poem, which plays like a dream of world music with the borders rendered fuzzy and the corners rounded off.