Heitor Villa-Lobos was a remarkable 20th-Century Brazilian composer whose works mixed elements of jazz with the flavors of South American folk music. In his compositions one can hear the premonition of later musical forms to come: salsa, rhumba, even a taste of tango, but the over-riding factor is the melodic jazz, which is so reminiscent of Villa-Lobos' contemporary Django Reinhardt. One also hears the bravado of Spanish flamenco, complete with its pounding rhythm and complex phrasings. Villa-Lobos may just be the first truly international composer, in that his work reflects the input of numerous influences from around the globe. Indeed, he was toying with jazz fusion before the term was even invented.
Out of all of his total output, his compositions for guitar were relatively few, but they are also the most long-lived and the most celebrated. That's because Villa-Lobos, who had performed as a street musician, had a clear sense of how he thought the guitar should be used as an instrument of expression. After just one listening it is easy to recognize both the beauty and importance of his works.
It's also easy to recognize just how talented the guitarist, Norbert Kraft, is. And I don't mean this strictly in technical terms. Even the great Segovia admitted that he found Villa-Lobos' pieces difficult to play, but Kraft sounds like he's doing it with his eyes closed. He's loud where he needs to be, and quiet when the music calls for it. You can tell he is very passionate about Villa-Lobos. As another reviewer has pointed out, Kraft is Canadian and, at first, that seems like heresy. But there's something very appropriate about a foreigner mastering Villa-Lobos' international music. It is definitely in keeping with the spirit of the works. I think that after hearing these definitive interpretations of his six-stringed masterpieces, Villa-Lobos would be pleased.