Aca Seca Trio offers dreamy, compelling festival debut

Lullabies too compelling to fall asleep to filled the Cistern Yard on Friday as Argentina's Aca Seca Trio performed in Spoleto Festival's Wells Fargo Jazz Series.

The trio, making its festival debut during its first North American tour, can't exactly be called a jazz group. It consists of Juan Quintero (acoustic guitar), Andres Beeuwsaert (piano) and Mariano Cantero (percussion). The three of them take turns singing lead vocals, and the music really shines when their sweet timbres combine in harmony.

Each of their voices is unique in some way - Quintero's is earnest and pure, Beeuwsaert's is breathier and soothing, Cantero's is lower and strong - but they are also similar enough to blend seamlessly and sound like they belong together.

The music itself is a laid-back take on traditional South American styles. The trio played original songs, as well as pieces by other composers from Argentina and Uruguay.

Rhythmically, the music was complex and intriguing. Even though the general sound of Aca Seca Trio is dreamlike and sleepy, listening closely reveals the high level of musicianship.

Quintero and Beeuwsaert in particular spent the night handing off melodic lines of music, making it hard to tell when one instrument began and the other ended. Whether fingerpicked or strummed, the nylon-stringed guitar rooted the band's music in South America.

But the standout talent came from Cantero, whose percussion playing drove the songs forward. He fearlessly led the group dynamically, with swelling phrases that took each piece to the next level. And his use of instruments beyond the drum set was tasteful and effective.

For example, it would be easy to get carried away with wind chimes given the dreamlike quality of Aca Seca Trio's music, but Cantero only employed the auxiliary instrument once. Because of his judgment, that one time felt truly special. It's in these details that the trio was able to shine.

Although the majority of the performance was marked by soothing compositions, charming singing and emotive playing, the show did start out shaky.

Quintero's voice missed the mark during the first song; it sounded weak, and he seemed unsure. But by the second piece, all three members had found their groove. There was no more uncertainty in anyone's voice.

But perhaps even more than their dreamy performance, the members of Aca Seca Trio charmed the audience with their graciousness and their gratitude to be playing at the festival - and in the United States in general. Despite not being able to speak much English, Quintero made a point to sincerely thank everyone involved in the concert, from the sound crew to the crowd.

It would seem that their dreams were coming true, just as their music was guiding the audience members into their own peaceful place.

Aca Seca Trio performs again at 9 p.m. on Saturday in the Cistern Yard. Tickets are $45-50.

Jessica Cabe is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.?