(Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 12th, 2010. Review by Rod Fogg)
Flamenco has, over the years, been fertile ground for fusionistas. Paco de Lucia kicked off Flamenco-jazz in 1979 with "The Guitar Trio" - a collaboration with Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin which occupied the artistic high ground. Popular, but less exalted, was Ottmar Liebert's cruise and groove Flamenco-meets-smooth chaff of the 1990s. Is this a good place to mention the Gypsy Kings? Probably not. Over the years there have been many "Nuevo Flamenco" developments in Spain, mostly mixing street beats with percussive guitar playing; by and large, they failed to reach export grade.
As played by a virtuoso guitarist, Flamenco is an attractive proposition. You have the beguiling sound of plucked strings, the sudden bursts of percussion using the top and sides of the guitar, the dramatic rachayo off the backs of the fingernails - this is one of few styles in which the player truly plays the whole guitar. Add to that the ebullient rhythms, the complex metre and the sombre Phrygian tonality of Spanish music and you can see why this music has traveled all around the world and back again - and why not every fusion brings something new to the table.
So Eduardo Niebla needs to bring something special if he is to stand out from the crowd. In this concert the thud and rattle of the Flamenco cahon was replaced by Dharmesh Parmar 's Indian tabla - a truly virtuoso percussion instrument, capable of varied, and almost voice-like expressive sounds. This created the backdrop to Ricardo Garcia 's guitar accompaniment. Ricardo is an excellent guitar player in his own right, executing breathtaking unison passages and spot-on percussive outbursts in crisp synchronisation with his leader.
And Eduardo - virtuoso? Inventive improviser? Yes and yes. And creative composer too. Writer of beautiful melodies, great grooves, charming and self-effacing. He cast a deep, engrossing spell over the audience which transported them to other places, to the distant past, to India, Arabia, North Africa, Spain - tracing the link between modern Flamenco and the ancient music of India. And then on to the New World, to South and Central America for the rumba. At the end of the concert he thanked the audience for having been present while the band "searched for these deep places in the music".
Believe me, they found them.