‘Swing flamenco’ the on-line Festival programme said. Intriguing. I knew nothing of Camerata Flamenco Project but the list of instruments looked interesting – piano, cello, flute, double bass, drums and sax, as well as a singer and a dancer. A septet. So I bought tickets.
We were tired that evening, but happy, having had a wonderful day at the Carnaval de Cadiz. Sala Paul was set out slightly differently when we arrived, with chairs around small tables containing lighted candles at the very front and around the sides of the auditorium. Not quite Ronnie Scott’s maybe but a definite nod in that direction. So, flamenco jazz fusion we thought.
It was much more than that.
When we emerged, over two hours later (twice the length of time that the band was supposed to play) we were still stunned, amazed, elated and transformed. I think it was one of the best concerts I have been to.
The musicianship was astonishing. The three men at the centre of Camerata are the pianist Pablo Suarez, cellist Jose Luis Lopez and faultist/saxophonist Ramiro Obedman, from Barcelona, Madrid and Argentina respectively. Suarez has a flamenco background, Lopez is a prize-winning classical musician and teacher and Obedman’s background is tango and jazz. The ‘Project’ was founded to bring all these elements together and from them to forge something new.
It is difficult to know what to call this music. It is, genuinely, a fusion of several types of music. At different points in the concert we recognised melodies or riffs from Miles Davis, from Eric Satie and Debussy as well as traditional flamenco. At times it is intimate and gentle, at others rousing, discordant and loud. It is quite demanding, very free form, and not ‘easy listening’, though it is very good to listen to.
The trio got their groove going then were joined by Jose Miguel Garzon on double bass and Karo Sampela on drums. Obedman switched from flute to sax – he is a very good flautist but a remarkable jazz saxophonist. The groove continued. This quintet was added to further by singer Antonio Campos, a regular Project collaborator and dancer Alfonso Losa. Thus we achieved the septet.
This was the most ‘flamenco’ section of the concert as Campos sang flamenco refrains and melodies which chimed with the rhythms and melodies of the instruments. Yet the groove was still there, that elusive symbiosis between the music and the musicians in pursuit of the sublime. It was obvious to all that the band was having a ball. And so was the audience.
Perhaps the clearest evidence of this was the reluctance of singer and dancer to leave the stage. They had done their numbers and the instrumentalists returned to the earlier forms, but Campos and Losa kept returning, rather as the musicians kept playing, long after the concert was supposed to be drawing to a close. Losa in particular simply couldn’t keep still. Even when standing at the back of the stage, waiting to come forward and perform, his body writhed and jerked with the rhythms. This was duende, just not the usual flamenco duende, and it was shared by all the performers, whatever one wants to call it – getting into the groove, getting a vibe going, achieving a transformative state.
It was fabulous.
Concert and standing ovations over the audience snapped up the CDs on sale outside. I was listening to ‘Impressions‘ only yesterday.
I hope someone at Sadlers Wells, or Ronnie Scott’s or the Festival Hall knows about these guys and brings them to London ( I intend to tell everyone I know about them ). I, and the others of my party, will be first in the queue to see them again. But I think the gentleman I overheard bemoaning the international flavour of the Festival wouldn’t like it – it will offend the purists.
Below the central trio play ‘Entre dos Aguas‘ by the late, great, flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, like chamber music, like jazz, like flamenco. Enjoy it.