New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: flamenco music

Soprano Meets Bass Reinvent Sephardic Treasures with Passion and Elegance

The new Sephardic Treasures album by the Soprano Meets Bass project – streaming at Spotify – is a gorgeous and expansive take on a very old idea. Classical ensembles have been appropriating ancient Jewish themes for centuries; this album is more eclectic, drawing on tango, flamenco and jazz as well. In general, the music is sleeker than you would expect from a klezmer or tango band playing this material. For those of us who don’t speak Ladino, singer Ana María Ruimonte gives the material much more clarity than most operatically-trained vocalists typically deliver. And she maintains power and edge through many of the melodies’ challenging, rapidfire melismas and ornaments.

This is a long, rewarding album: fifteen songs. Most of them are sad; kings typically do not fare well in them. Minor keys are everywhere, along with the occasional slashing Middle Eastern mode. Bandleader/bassist Alan Lewine puts on a master class in terse, purposeful solos, notably a triumphantly churning facsimile of flamenco guitar playing in a Romany-flavored anthem toward the end of the record.

Some of the songs have a full rhythm section, with Shai Wetzer on drums; others feature lighter percussion by Víctor Monge. Pianist Chano Domínguez, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, flutist Hadar Noiber,  Spanish guitarist Julián Vaquero and violinist Alicia Svigals all punch in purposefully, often with echoes of flamenco or the Balkans, when the vocals drop out, or in response to Ruimonte’s lyrical phrasing. She sings in character, whethe plaintive, pensive – or simply unable to keep a straight face, in a goofy nursery rhyme about a cat. That’s the album’s lone moment of comic relief.

In a handful of songs, she reaches for the rafters with arioso power, especially in a dancing, subtly shifting North African-influenced ballad. There are quieter songs and laments here as well, including one with a spare, hypnotic, almost Indian atmosphere, an almost completely rubato tableau, and a welcome departure into flamenco jazz. What a feast for fans of flamenco, klezmer and classical music alike

Epic, Spine-Tingling Spanish Dances and a Queens Show by Fiery Violinist Maureen Choi

Violinst Maureen Choi found her muse when she immersed herself in Spanish music. She likes epics and big, explosive crescendos: her music is not for the timid or people with ADD. Her new kick-ass album Theia is streaming at her music page – and it’s one of the most unselfconsciously adrenalizing records of the year. Her slashing, often Romany and Arabic-tinged compositions rise and fall and leap all over the place, and the fun her band has with them is contagious. She’s playing Terraza 7 on June 29 at 9 PM; cover is $15.

Choi flurries and flares over drummer Michael Olivera’s suspenseful flickers throughout the dramatic intro to the album’s first cut, Dear Paco (Cepa Andaluza); then bassist Mario Carrillo joins the party, pianist Daniel Garcia Diego firing off fiery, Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics.

Phoenix Borealis is a diptych of sorts, hushed luminosity bookending a ferocious flamenco dance with a big explosion of drums and some of the most savagely bowed bass in recent memory. Choi follows the same trajectory in Dance of the Fallen, painting plaintively resonatn lines over Garcia Diego’s elegant chromatic ripples and graceful chordal work.

Canto Salamanchino is a cheery number that shifts in and out of waltz time, between major and minor, with a deliciously pointillistic, chromatic piano solo midway through and an unexpected detour into Chinese pastoralia afterward. Silverio O. Garcia has a hushed, elegaic quality, violin and piano echoing each other’s plaintive riffs. Steady pitchblende menace gives way to acerbic Andalucian flair and a series of crashing crescendos in Sinner’s Prayer

Love Is the Answer is a somewhat muted, almost wrenchingly bittersweet ballad: imagine Chano Dominguez taking a crack at Schubert. Choi kicks off Bok Choi Pajarillo with a big solo that shifts cleverly between Romany intensity and the baroque; from there, it’s a flamenco rollercoaster.

The album closes with its two most towering epics. Septenber the First, the album’s most haunting number, has a persistently uneasy late-summer haziness, part Palestinian-flavored dirge and anguished string-jazz lament. Choi closes the record with Danza Ritual Del Fuego: from an allusive intro that could be Dave Brubeck, through a long Afro-Cuban-inflected interlude, it’s more simmer than fullscale inferno, with a coy false ending. Count this as one of the best albums of 2019 in any style of music.

Chano Dominguez Brings His Saturnine Flamenco Piano Brilliance to Joe’s Pub Friday Night

The annual flamenco festival is happening around town next weekend, and as usual, fiery Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez is part of it. Perhaps better than any musician alive, he blends American jazz with flamenco for all the dark acerbity he can channel – which is a lot. He’s at Joe’s Pub this Friday, March 6 at 7 PM; cover is a little steep, $30, but he’s worth it. In fact, the show actually might sell out, so advance tix are a good idea.

His 2017 solo album Over the Rainbow  – streaming at Bandcamp – is a good introduction. It’s a mix of live and studio takes including both originals and classics from across the Americas. John Lewis’ Django proves to be a perfect opener, Dominguez building a lingering intro until he he adds subtle Spanish rhythm, a series of tasty, slithery cascades and finally some deviously muted syncopation. Likewise, he takes his time with Cuban composer Eliseo Grenet’s Drume Negrita, reinventing it as a balletesque strut rather than playing it as salsa, with a meticulous, downwardly ratcheting coda.

There are a couple of Monk tunes here. Evidence is amusingly tricky, switching back and forth between “gotcha!” pauses and a sagely bluesy insistence that swings just enough to keep it from being a march. Interesingly, Dominguez plays the more phantasmagorical Monk’s Dream a lot more straightforwardly, at the exact same tempo, with spiraling exactitude.

From its spring-loaded intro, to the clenched-teeth intensity of Dominguez’s drive through the first verse, to a bracing blend of cascade and pounce, the real showstopper here is an epic take of Violeta Parra’s Gracias A La Vida. He brings a similar, majestically circling intensity and then some trickily rhythmic fun to Cuban composer and frequent collaborator Marta Valdés’s Hacia Dónde.

The gorgeous take of Los Ejes De Mi Carreta, by Argentinean songwriter Atahualpa Yupanqui, simmers over catchy lefthand riffage, then grows more austere until Dominguez takes it out with a stampede.

His two originals here are dedicated to his kids. Mantreria shifts through intricate spirals, clever echo effects to saturnine, anthemic proportions and then back again. Marcel has a striking, steady, wistful yearning before Dominguez indulges in some boogie-woogie before shifting in a triumphantly gospel-flavored direction.

There’s also a ditty from the Wizard of Oz – no, it’s not If I Only Had a Brain.

The Maureen Choi Quartet Bring Their Dynamic Flamenco String Sounds to Queen

Violinist Maureen Choi began her career as a singer; as the story goes, she switched to violin after a brush with death. She lives in Spain now, where she and her quartet play a passionate, dynamic blend of Andalucian, flamenco, Romany and South American sounds. The band’s latest album Ida y Vuelta (Round Trip) is streaming at Spotify; they’ve got a show coming up tomorrow night, July 1 at 8 at Terrazza 7, 40-19 Gleane St. just off Baxter in Elmhurst; cover is $10.  Take the 7 to 82nd St.

Choi plays the album’s Django-influenced opening, title track with a lingering restraint echoed by pianist Daniel Garcia Diego’s elegantly climbing lines until drummer Michael Olivera picks up the pace, and they wind their way up to a big crescendo….then they’re off again,

Bassist Mario Carrillo grounds the neoromantically biting waltz Vals O Vienes with a gritty pulse, Diego glimmering uneasily and then adding a little blues, Choi growing starker and more kinetic as the band takes it deeper into flamenco. The catchy, folk-tinged tango Valentia grows both more lush and propusive as Choi leaps and bounds, with a playful salsa interlude midway through, Choi’s plaintively sailing melody contasts with the low-key but balletesque elegance of Bolero Del Alba. A tightly wound remake of Besame Mucho, Elizabeth eventually diverges into flamenco jazz, Diego gracefully handing off to Choi’s achingly melismatic attack.

Choi’s remake of Mercedes Sosa’s Alfonsina y El Mar is a sweepingly dancing duet with guest bassist Javier Colina. Choi’s steely resonance and Carrillo’s growling, prowling drive pair off in Negra Presuntuosa, a trickily rhythmic Peruvian lando. Pianist Pepe Rivero gives the bolero Dama De Noche and understated bounce while Choi digs in hard, up to a wry trick ending that’s 180 degrees from the rest of the song

The album’s most lighthearted cut is Bilongo, a cha-cha. The quartet reinvent Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol as a martial shuffle and then fllamenco jazz;. They close the album with Gracias A La Vida, the Violeta Parra ballad made famous by Sosa, Choi’s spare, prayerful lead paired with Diego’s delicate, wistful piano. If flamenco fire, south-of-the-border melancholy or Romany rambunctiousness are your thing, you can’t go wrong with this band.

Ventanas Bring Their Exhilarating Mashup of Flamenco, Middle Eastern and Ladino Sounds to the Lower East

Is there a more enticing way to open an album than with a bristling oud solo? That’s what Toronto band Ventanas do on their new album Arrelumbre – meaning “shine” in Ladino, the Sephardic Jewish dialect, and streaming at Bandcamp. As the song goes along, Dennis Duffin’s flamenco guitar climbs and intertwines with Jessica Hana Deutsch’s violin over a shapeshifting groove as frontwoman Tamar Ilana’s voice sails overhead. All that pretty well capsulizes what you get on the record, conjuring images of dark-haired señors and señoritas passing around a bottle of arak against the backdrop of a blazing bonfire, crackling castanets and twirling dervishes, an enchanting and genre-warping cross-cultural party. The eclectically intense Mediterranean/Romany/Middle Eastern/klezmer acoustic jamband are bringing all this cross-pollinated fun to a free show at Drom on January 15 (actually the wee hours of the 16th) at around half past midnight.

After that first track, the album really gets cooking with the lickety-split Dedo Mili Na Pazar, its eerie Balkan vocal harmonies over a spiky thicket of Demetrios Petsalakis’ baglama lute bolstered by pizzicato violins (that’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra‘s Mark Marczyk on the other one). The title suite of Moroccan dances rises amd then bursts out of Duffin’s elegant flamenco intro in flurries of shivery violin, Ilana’s honeyed vocals providing a tender contrast – and then the band picks it up even further. Then they mash up flamenco and classical Persian balladry.

The well-traveled Balkan folk song Makedonsko Devojce doesn’t bear much resemblance to the cult favorite Black Sea Hotel version, but it’s reinvented all the same, in this case as a mashup of flanemco, Romany guitar jazz and jaunty folk-rock with an incendiary violin solo at the center. The album’s most epic track, Elianto, is a deliciously slinky, misterioso number fueled by Ilana’s low-flame vocals and Petsalakis’ oud.

Libertad has a similarly edgy Middle Easter flavor, blended with flamenco intensity at double the speed. La Sala Del Crimen pairs lustrous violin against Duffin’s elegant fretwork, while Si Te Quiero offers a dusky launching pad for fast-fingered strumming. The gorgeously bittersweet, enigmatic Landarico pairs Ilana’s wounded vocals against an austere wash of strings, then Petsalakis’ oud takes over, ambered and stately. The album winds up with Ven A Mi (Colombianas), a lively blend of flamenco and Romany guitar jazz. Toronto may have earned infamy as home to a broken social scene, but this is the together one: it’s hard to imagine anybody having more fun onstage than this merry band.

An Overlooked Lorca-Inspired Art-Rock Treasure from Rima Fand

Much as this blog’s raison d’etre is to keep an eye on what’s happening now, the past is littered with unfairly overlooked albums. One recent one, from 2011, is Rima Fand’s Sol, Caracol (Spanish for “Sun, Snail”). It comprises many of the songs from her theatrical project Don Cristobal: Billy-Club Man, which sets Federico Garcia Lorca poetry to frequently haunting, flamenco-tinged original music. This is the closest thing to an original soundtrack recording that exists, part dark flamenco rock, part noir cabaret, part chamber pop. Besides playing violin, the Luminescent Orchestrii co-founder distinguishes herself on mandolin and keyboards as well, accompanied by an all-star cast from many styles of south-of-the-border and Balkan music.

Although Don Cristobal and his sidekick Rosita are a Spanish version of Punch and Judy, there’s very little here that’s vaudevillian, consistent with Garcia Lorca’s full-fledged rather than one-dimensionally farcical depiction of the characters. The opening track, Midnight Hours, sets a dramatic lead vocal by David Fand over a spiky blend of the bandleader’s mandolin with Avi Fox-Rosen and Chris Rael’s guitars, a soaring choir behind them. You might call this art-flamenco. Lucia Pulido sings the dynamically charged Replica, Rima Fand doubling on mandolin and accordion. Cicada, a shivery, hypnotically suspenseful string piece, blends her violin with those of Sarah Alden and Not Waving But Drowning’s Pinky Weitzman and Matt Moran‘s vibraphone.

Justine Williams
sings the creepy, marching Rosita’s Song. The choir returns for Don Woodsman-Heart, a moody flamenco vamp lit up by Quince Marcum‘s alto horn, morphing into a dreaming, longing waltz. Pulido takes over the mic again on the terse, minimalistic Confusion over My Brightest Diamond cellist Maria Jeffers‘ bassline. David Fand returns to imploring lead vocals on the insistent Abre Tu Balcon (Open Up Your Balcony – that’s Don Cristobal imploring Rosita to have a word with him). They follow that with a cartoonish miniature, Te Mate and then Hat-Ache, another flamenco-tinged, angst-fueled, love-stricken ballad.

The album’s centerpiece is the macabre, carnivalesque Billy-Club Ballet, the bandleader on piano with guitar and percussion, Fox-Rosen’s jagged electric incisions adding menace up to a twinkling piano interlude and then back down. They follow a brief mandolin waltz with La Monja Gitana (The Country Nun), rising from another austere 3/4 rhythm, with a rich, bittersweet vocal from Rima Fand.

Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker a.k.a. innovative Balkan/Appalachian duo AE sing the sweeping, tensely moonlit Lullaby for a Sleeping Mirror, building to a lush, anxious round. The album ends with the towering overture La Cogida y la Muerte, sung pensively in English and Spanish by Abigail Wright, the acidic close harmonies of the string section contrasting with Katie Down‘s anxiously dancing flute and the distantly circling trumpets of Ben Syversen, Sarah Ferholt, JR Hankins and Ben Holmes. Surreal, sad, eclectic and vivid, it more than does justice to Lorca’s equally surreal, sad, ironic poetry. The album comes with a useful lyric booklet including English translations.

Haunting Spanish-Jewish Sounds from Ljuba Davis

The Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble dedicates itself to resurrecting the haunting, cross-pollinated Ladino repertoire that originated in Spain in the days before the Inquisition, when Andalucia was a major center for both Jewish and Arabic culture. Unsurprisingly, what eclectic chanteuse Davis sings – in Ladino, the centuries-old Spanish Jewish dialect – sounds a lot like a whole bunch of other styles, yet it’s different. The songs on their amazing new album have flamenco-tinged acoustic guitars, but the lead lines are carried just as often as by Avram Pengas’ spiky, incisive bouzouki or Rachid Halihal’s oud. The melodies refer to gypsy music, the Middle East or the Balkans just as often as they evoke their Spanish home turf. Davis sings in a nuanced voice that can be quiet and plaintive but also joyous, sailing up to the end of a phrase on the album’s second track with the kind of microtonal “whoop” that’s common in Bulgarian music. The band is playing the album release show on June 15 at 8 at Drom, $10 advance tickets are highly recommended and still available as of today.

The album’s opening track begins with layers of ringing bouzouki and gentle, flamenco-tinged acoustic guitar by Nadav Lev – who’s a one-man flamenco/Middle Eastern army here – and then suddenly explodes into a chromatic gypsy tune, the guitar, bouzouki and oud alternating voices artfully over terse bass, clattering percussion and then a scampering oud solo. Scalerica sets Bulgarian tonalities over a galloping levantine melody while Morenica sways elegantly, its intertwining guitar and bouzouki spiraling upward with lightning, filigreed precision.

Durme, a pensively gorgeous minor-key waltz, contrasts Martin Confurius’ ominous bowed bass with Davis’ stoic vocalese, while Cuando starts out as flamenco and then morphs into a blazing, fiery Balkan dance; the stately Adio Kerida has the longing quality a Mexican ranchera ballad. The album winds up with its two most intense, haunting tracks. The all-too-brief Adir Hu has Davis belting powerfully over a haunting thicket of darkly chromatic guitars, oud and percussion that speeds up at the end; Rachamana, an epic, shifts from a suspenseful flamenco intro to a pulsing Balkan anthem lit up with an adrenalizing series of flurrying solos from Lev, Pengas and Halihal. Kudos to Davis and her band for resurrecting these fascinating songs: they deserve to be much better known. The album comes as a twofer: the complete album and one minus Davis’ vocals (although the guys’ backing vocals are included) for orthodox listeners who won’t allow themselves the forbidden pleasure of listening to a woman’s vocals. Intentionally or not, it also works as karaoke.