Paco De Lucia
(Royal Festival Hall, 16th November, LJF. Review by Don Mendelsohn)
Walking out alone onto a palm-filled stage to the adulation of a sold-out Royal Festival Hall, flamenco’s greatest living exponent seated himself dead centre among the flora and began an unaccompanied improvisation that had every member of the audience holding their breath with awe. For the next two hours he played music of such spirit and nuance that at the end virtually the entire hall leapt to its feet to demand an encore.
Along the way we were transported to the streets, bars and dance halls of southern Spain, every picado drawing exclamations from band and audience members alike. Joined after his opening solo by a seven-piece band comprising three outstanding singers (one of whom almost stole the show with several virtuosic displays of traditional baile or dance), harmonica, bass, percussion and additional guitar, Paco showed why he is able to draw such crowds wherever he goes.
It is almost impossible to speak of flamenco without at some point uttering the word “passion”, and that was at the heart of tonight’s performance, from the guitarist’s legato flourishes to the rhythmic drive of the cajon and the immensely powerful voices that seemed to contain hundreds of years of history, a sound capable of reaching the deepest corners of the soul.
There were spotlight moments for each member of the troupe, with a couple of brilliant jazz-infused harmonica solos standing out (if only he had left the synth alone!). But even in an accompanying role, Paco’s quiet authority and musical generosity suffused the stage.
While other high-profile guitarists like John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola (both of whom Paco has worked with) have continually reinvented themselves, dabbling in a range of styles and sound-worlds, De Lucia’s approach has essentially remained steadfast throughout his illustrious six-decade career. Now regarded as the figurehead of nuevo flamenco (a style he all but invented), the world has come to him, and he rewards its attention with music of depth, maturity and finesse.