(Royal Festival Hall, part of London Jazz Festival,18th November 2010, review by Rod Fogg) Jazz has travelled freely around the world, soaking up influences and being reinvented in places far afield from its birthplace. We have French jazz, Swedish jazz, British jazz and so on. Flamenco, in many ways a close relative, has also traveled well but without ever losing its connection to its homeland. Wherever it is played, it speaks of Spain, Andalusia, and its origins in the poverty and oppression of a minority.
In his own country Paco de Lucia is both hero and legend; he is the embodiment of a free creative spirit, yet he remains rooted in tradition. Making his debut as a boy in a different world, in Franco’s Spain in 1958, he went exploring, pushing at the boundaries, inventing jazz/flamenco fusion and bringing in new instruments and an extended harmonic language. You could sense the affection in the cries of support from the many Spanish speakers in the audience.
Flamenco shows tend to follow a predictable route, full of intensity and passion, with guitar introductions joined by singing and dancing leading to an ensemble climax. In many ways this was a very traditional concert. It began with a solo piece, played freely, perhaps even hesitantly, as if feeling his way; with gently plucked strings, closely voiced chords and guitar percussion, blending European, Gypsy, Moorish and Arabic and yet not sounding like any one of these. Gradually, Paco de Lucia was joined by his ensemble; two singers, a dancer, a second guitarist, bass guitarist, percussion, and keyboardist who doubled, spectacularly, on harmonica.
The music was engrossing, moving, perhaps at times even transcendental. There was so much virtuosity on display, and not just from Paco. The first half followed more-or-less the traditional flamenco structure; the second half was more jazz-influenced, with extended solos from all the musicians and themes stated in unison between guitar and harmonica. Though the sound was a long way from the traditional rawness of the guitar supported only by cajon (a boxlike percussion instrument) this was still flamenco more than jazz, while the broader textures afforded by the large band hinted at world music. This was the sound of Paco de Lucia drawing inspiration from his roots, blending the earth song of flamenco with elements of grooving jazz improvisation. The lengthy standing ovation at the end of the concert says it all.
Notes: (1) There are post-concert comments on Andrew McCormack’s preview.
(2) If anyone knows/ would like to add the names of the others onstage, please do – thanking you in advance! (3) Photo Wikimedia)