Review: Paco de Lucia, Beyond the Memory
Mark Gilbert enjoys a tribute at the London Barbican, 9 December, to the late flamenco guitarist featuring Chano Domínguez, Niño Josele, Jorge Pardo and Carles Benavent
One thing to clear up first: flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia says in the 2014 documentary film La Búsqueda that was he always an improviser, but despite his jazz associations (primarily with McLaughlin and Coryell) and the lazy assumption that improvisation signifies jazz, this was not a jazz evening; there was little jazz - rather, welcome excursions into a parallel and symbiotic language.
The concert, a tribute to the guitarist, who died suddenly while holidaying in Mexico in February 2014, began with the duo of pianist Chano Domínguez and guitarist Niño Josele, who issued a duo album, Chano y Josele, on Okeh in 2014. The two Spaniards negotiated the difficult relationship between two similarly pitched chording instruments without getting in each other’s way to any significant degree. The abiding impression in a long set of nine or 10 numbers was one of reverberant rubatos and rallentandos. The latter are not uncommon in flamenco proper (whatever that is) but in this case they were rarely followed by the emphatic albeit delayed resolutions one waits for in a bulería or soleá. The harmony often ventured into areas outside the flamenco heartland, which made for interesting moments from Josele, as Domínguez played sequences that owed as much to the Western songbook, even the classical repertoire, as to the oriental Andalucian repertory. The set list included plenty of non-flamenco material, including John Lewis’s Django (albeit a tribute to a gypsy), the Beatles’ Because and Michel Legrand’s ever-moving Je T’Attendrai, all pieces that lent themselves to the duo’s reflective outlook, one suspects guided by Domínguez; Josele made no announcements. Only with the sixth piece did unambiguous rhythmic clarity emerge as Josele rattled out a bulería rhythm on muted strings. Other highlights included Josele’s solo rendition of Alma De Mujer (a Colombiana by Domínguez) with some impressive, extended tremelo work as the piece came into focus towards the end of a long meditation. Domínguez reciprocated with a solo rendition of Josele’s ¿Esto Es Una Bulería? from the guitarist's 2009 album Española.
The tribute band proper, composed of former De Lucia sidemen including flautist Jorge Pardo (pictured above) and bassist Carles Benavent, introduced a welcome rhythmic certitude, beginning with guitar duets with bass and then percussion. The rest of the set was dominated by the nine-man ensemble playing steady bulerías, rumbas and tangos. The pulse was good if a little indistinct at times but that might have been the hall’s acoustic. The highlights came from individuals and included Pardo's tremendous solo flute taranta, a form he described as “deep blues”. There may have been shades of Ian Anderson in the percussive qualities, dynamic range and folk flavours but there was nothing stagey about this, just riveting musical narrative, the harmonic profundity of the Phrygian harmony and cadence conferring real gravity as ever. Also outstanding was one of the harmonica solos by Antonio Serrano, a virtuoso, and naturally the flamboyant dance steps of Farru. The guitarists, including De Lucia's nephew Antonio Sánchez, fine as they were, were overshadowed by the large ensemble and possibly over-amplified percussion. While the rhythmic focus was welcome, the downside in the ensembles was a want of dynamic variety - a solo soleá might not have gone amiss, but Pardo's moment provided some of that contrast.
The music was interspersed with engaging excerpts from La Búsqueda, including the unintentionally complimentary comment by De Lucia's conservative father that Benavent sounded like some sort of spiritualist - in fact he sounds like a unique cross between Steve Swallow, Jaco Pastorius and, on occasion strumming the bass, his guitar-playing fellows. The film also has De Lucia recalling his fear that he couldn’t improvise adequately in the Coryell-De Lucia-McLaughlin guitar trio. He says Coryell told him to follow the chord tones; De Lucia said he responded by playing as much outside them as on them. However, he was hardly the polytonalist. Rather, one suspects, he meant he played modally rather than vertically as Coryell had suggested.
It was good to see De Lucia honoured tonight in an authentically Spanish setting. Like that famous trio, it was a hybrid, reflecting the all-in atmosphere of the 70s of which De Lucia and company with their nuevo flamenco were a leading Spanish example, but here was far more timbral variety and traditional reference. It underlined the good sense of Jelly Roll Morton’s observation that jazz needs a Spanish tinge, a heat conspicuously absent from many more northerly European productions today.
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