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Paco de Lucia

As is often the case, I've been so busy hearing great music that I haven't had time to write about it. I saw the opening night of Vicente at SF Jazz March 10. The heir to the genius of Paco de Lucia (Paco was godfather to Vicente's daughter, and Vicente to Paco's son) Vicente plays with an abandon and depth that only the complete mastery of an instrument allows. Like Paco, he is secure enough of his stature to explore other mediums and genres, notably his recording Tierra of a few years ago, which explored Celtic and Spanish themes with members of Mark Knopfler's band. (Ancient Celtic songs from Galicia are in fact incorporated into flamenco). This band featured the dancer Antonio "El Choro" Molina, the bassist Ewen Vernal, percussionist Paquito Gonzalez, and Rafael de Utrera and Antonio Fernandez on vocals and palmas. The program reached its climax with a rousing bulerias featuring Molina's inspired dancing. A "puro" recording of cante jondo is forthcoming.
Carlos Saura's latest performance film, Flamenco Flamenco, is finally released in the US. Shot in 2010 at the Seville Expo '92 Pavillion by legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (The Conformist / Apocalypse Now) Flamenco Flamenco is a sequel to Saura's 1995 Flamenco. Like flamenco itself, it is a dream, a poem, and all of reality. Almost all of the flamenco community is recorded; Vicente Amigo and El Viejin being perhaps glaring exceptions. Flamenco featured very simply filmed performances. Flamenco Flamenco is intentionally more theatrical; one scene has Eva Yerbabuena and Miguel Poveda performing on set in the rain. Every generation alive and performing today is included; from the stunning 14 year old dancer Manuel Fernandez "El Carpeta" to the octogenarian Maria Bala singing an unaccompanied solea. Manolo Sanlucar's alegria is amazing. Paco de Lucia plays a buleria por solea with La Tania singing for the second to last piece; and Moraito plays and even dances on the final buleria de Jerez, reminding us in an eerily beautiful way that we have lost two giants. All the dancing does flamenco justice. Sara Baras, with an alegria no less, will steal your heart.
Last Saturday Diego El Cigala performed at the SF Jazz Miner Auditorium. Perhaps the most gifted contemporary flamenco singer, he has experimented with salsa and Cuban music, winning a Grammy in 2003 for his collaboration with Bebo Valdes, and in 2005 for Picasso in Mis Ojos, with Paco de Lucia and Jerry Gonzalez. This performance featured electric guitar, piano, acoustic bass, and percussion. Elegant in white dinner jacket and tuxedo pants (the guitarist was in flannel shirt and jeans) Diego moved smoothly through a mostly salsa set. The band were obviously all originally flamenco musicians, and very at ease with the material. The electric guitarist in particular, Diego Garcia, played some traditional flamenco lines on the tangos (flamenco, not Argentine, although Diego has also explored that music). Piano and electric guitar don't have a fast enough decay to accompany the lightening response of a master flamenco singer, and as breathtakingly beautiful as his voice is - from a whisper to a scream in a nanosecond, I found myself longing for an acoustic flamenco guitar. A second acoustic guitar was listed in the program, so perhaps that was the original intent. A gifted producer, Diego recently released the debut of guitarist Diego del Morao, the son of the late great Moraito.

As with the passing of Miles Davis, I find it very hard to believe Paco has left us.  But he has left us with a brilliant recording, Cancion Andaluza, worthy of the finest guitarist who ever lived.  Cancion are essentially pop songs, dating back to ancient Andaluza, and achieving their greatest popularity in the 1940s.  So it is the Great Adalusian Song Book, if you will.  Paco adds mandolo, guitaro, and oud to the sound, evoking ancient and modern textures.  He recorded coplas on his very first recording "12 exitos para dos guitarras flamencas", and often spoke of the influence of the cancion singer, Marife de Triana.  Maria de la O, Ojos Verdes, Romance de Valentia, Te je de querer mientras viva, with Estrella Morente, La chiquita piconera, Zambra Gitana, with Parrita, Quiroga por bulerias, and Seniorita, a salsa arrangement with the Cuban singer Oscar de Leon, comprise the recording. If you love music, buy this recording.  If you are a musician, buy all his recordings. 

It's taken me a few days to write about Paco.  Like many flamencos, he lived a hard and full life.  And so I am shocked but not suprised that he left us in the prime of life.  And in truth, playing with one's children on a tropical beach is a fitting way to leave this mortal vale.  There is wonderful early footage of Paco in a bathrobe, cigarette in mouth, and whiskey nearby, playing an amazing rondena.  He was one of the very few artists of any genre, where each recording was eagerly awaited, for not only the music, but the overall philosophical direction it might point to.  Like Picasso and Miles, Paco changed the way his fellow practioners thought about their art.  As Andre Bush once said to me, every single note goes right through your heart.  A majestic technique allowed no seperation between thought and emotion, and execution.  His picado the result of being locked in his room by his father while still a child for hours on end, so the legend has it.  And for all his genius, a humble man.  For the truly great ones know that the music merely flows through the vessel of the player.  I had the privilege of seeing him many times.  Once, a few nights in a row to see if I could figure out how much was improvised.  The set list was identical, to be sure.  And I realized that his concentration was so intense, each note so perfectly and uniquely attacked, that one couldn't tell what was improvised or rehearsed - it was all so fresh and real.  I think of Paco the way he almost always started a concert.  Alone, in deep concentration, usually with a rodena, or minera, or taranta.  Following the piece through to its individual, logical conclusion.  So lost in the music that he didn't usually recognize applause until the end of a performance.  Solo Quiero Caminar and Siroco being for me recordings which expanded my entire idea of what flamenco could encompass.  And so now it is left to his heirs to carry on.  Manolo, and Pepe, and Vicente, and Tomatito, Canizares, Diego del Morao, Chuscales, Jason McGuire, El Vejin -so many great guitarists Paco has influenced that I couldn't possibly name all of them.  Ole Paco!

Wednesday October 30 the great Mariza played at Zellerbach Auditorium.  I have seen her many times over the years since she first played the Henry Kaiser Auditorium as part of SF Jazz.  And I saw her in March in the intimate Robert N. Miner Auditorium.  In truth, I was considering not attending this show just because I had seen her very recently.  But Mariza is one of a hanful of artists, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Ravi Shankar, Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo, that I will literally see as often as I can, indeed every night, if I could.  And my response at her first notes are always the same - I weep.  Yes, she is very beautiful, and dramatic, and has the stage presence of Sinatra.  But it is the voice, the emotion, that always overcomes me.  Truly universal, and completely fado.  With Jose Neto on guitarra, Pedro Joia on guitar, Nando Araujo on bass guitar, and Vicky Marques (a boy) on drums, the arrangements vary from a capella to the orchestral.  Even American and Brazillian pop tunes become true fado in her hands.  She teaches the audience some Portuguese to sing along with her.  Before the encores, she walks through the audience singing, and then sings off mic.  I have some sephardic Spanish and Portuguese blood.  Is that why she affects me so?     

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