If you’re going to tackle romance in art — any art, but especially, I think, music — you have to be good at it, or else you wind up with something fit only for hormonal teenagers. Cusco is good at it, and in Apurimac II they are not only good, they are spectacular. A German group who draw on the Inca pan-pipes for their basic sound, they have, according to the CD label, “returned to Ancient America.”
Well, no, not really. Ancient America never saw this much in the way of synthesizers, and the rhythms probably owe at least as much to Afro-Caribbean traditions as to anywhere else. So no, the music is not in the least authentic. No one should care. The song titles, if not the songs themselves, are all references to Aztec and Maya themes – “Montezuma,” “Quetzal’s Feather,” “Mexica,” “Goddess of the Moon.” What Cusco provides is a few minutes less than an hour of tremendously evocative music, beautifully drawn sound pictures rich in color, music to dream on.
Highlights (My own highly subjective selection):
“Montezuma” opens the disc, heralded by a mournful flute call over rapid, complex drums that provide a headlong impetus to a song that is way beyond tribal – if it’s not authentic, it’s very much what the music of ancient Mesoamerica should sound like. (I think maybe disco should have gone in this direction.) “Tula” is sweet, sensuous, and terribly sexy, with just a hint of sadness to it, long flute lines over a syncopated drumbeat accented by shimmering bells. “Maya Temple” casts a strong mood of melancholy, a little loneliness, perhaps some bittersweet memories, with flashes of joy. It’s great prelude to “Mexica,” a stately, throbbing tune – drums and guitars set up a “heartbeat” rhythm that carries the flute along in a long build, broken by fluid, sweet melodic passages that only add to the impulse, fading off like a procession in the twilight. “Temple of Remembrance,” the final and longest song on the disc, is a real tour-de-force – it’s really almost symphonic in scope, opening slow and sad and ringing changes of mood all the way through – in many ways, it’s a reprise of the album.
The sounds are rich and faintly exotic, the melodies are beautiful, the mood is romantic without cloying. Cusco is a group of very intelligent and accomplished musicians; regrettably, no one is credited on this disc, but one imagines the usual suspects: Michael Holm and/or Kristian Schulze, keyboards; Giuseppe Solera, flutes; Billy Lang and/or Johan Dansen, guitar; and Todd Canedy, drums (the makeup of the group seems somewhat fluid from release to release, the constants being Holm, Schulze, Solera when there are flutes, which is usually, and Canedy. Schulze seems to take care of the programming, and he is good.)
Think of moonlight in the jungle. Think of dancers garbed in brilliant feathers in stately processionals and passionate rituals. Think of a cold, rainy day and a snapping fire in the hearth (and maybe someone to enjoy it with). Think of Apurimac II — it won’t cost nearly as much as a week in the Yucatan.
(Higher Octave Music, 1994)