The Rhythm of Flamenco Wins American Hearts

The latest of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s excursions into foreign music was ‘‘Flamenco Nights,’‘ Thursday’s concert at Alice Tully Hall, and the connecting of flamenco to jazz went off well, if a little stiff-jointed at the American end.

A small crew of Andalusian musicians arrive in New York, bringing a rhythm that jazz musicians aren’t expected to feel innately. (Flamenco and jazz have a remote acquaintance by way of a few agents of crossover: Chick Corea, Paco de Lucia, Miles Davis; the natural cross-fertilization is nearly nil.) There’s some rehearsal time, but not too much. You might expect a raggedness in the ensemble sound when the Americans mix in.

But raggedness is almost never something you can accuse the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra of. What didn’t work so well were some of the evening’s commissioned works, Wynton Marsalis’s ‘‘Big Twelve’‘ as well as another that was untitled but based on the six-beat seguirilla rhythm. With the drummer Herlin Riley playing flamenco accents on the cymbals, these pieces were essentially piles of devices: counterpoint, arrangements that ricocheted impressively around the orchestra and at points let the rhythm section drop out completely. There were no assertive melodies; the music lacked some essential conviction, a life force.

By contrast the pianist Chano Dominguez, with his trio and three accompanying musicians — one playing the wooden cajon, one singing, one dancing, all three clapping — performed with that quality of brusque, guarded alertness that characterizes flamenco. The piano obviously is not a traditional flamenco instrument. But Mr. Dominguez is a conscious hybridizer, a rapid-finger ninja initially trained in jazz-fusion who eventually found his way to acoustic jazz, transferring the energy of flamenco guitar to the keyboard.

With the bassist Pablo Martin and the drummer Guillermo McGill, he massaged the music, finding himself in it by means of a purely modern jazz sensibility, injecting flamenco rhythms only here and there. It was when the singer Blas Cordoba let loose with his trembling, torn-sounding wails that one really felt the old Gypsy tradition merging with jazz’s leading edge.

A final piece, ‘‘De Cadiz a New Orleans’‘ — written by Mr. Dominguez, arranged and conducted by Luis Vidal — brought together both bands. It was dominated by Mr. Dominguez, who can be an excitingly percussive pianist, if a little antiseptic in his high technique. A vocal passage over flute, bass clarinet and trombones but no rhythm section suddenly turned into a piano-trio ballad section; sad, stirring folk-ballad melodies flooded a brass big-band sound.

Tomasito Moreno, the ensemble’s dancer, came to the front to perform his abrupt, precise body language, popping, locking, revolving in half-turns and guardedly jutting up a knee. The full orchestra bloomed into a complex, hyper-notey finish.

By Ben Ratliff
Source: The New York Times

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