Big Band, Flamenco, Goblin & Guitar

Big Band Canarias with Gerard Nunez; concert 2019 review
Ainara LeGardon and Dood Dance Collective
concerts in Arrecife, 2019

Here on our all across the arts pages we have previously looked at flamenco music from several perspectives, bringing you the dance led form and also the more contemporary flamenco fusion currently being explored by artists like Carlos Loma and Antonio. De Las Rias. Our most recent flirtation with flamenco though, was at the El Salinero theatre in Arrecife last month, when Big Band Canarias (BBDC) performed with vocalist Gerardo Nunez.

Together they sought to demystify the complex world of flamenco from a rhythmic and harmonic perspective. Flamenco is a music of character and emotion, and according to a quirk of translation on the Spanish written fliers advertising the event, flamenco contains a lot of ´goblin´. The word duende refers to a spirit in Spanish, Portuguese, and Filipino folklore and literally means “ghost” or “goblin” in Spanish. It is believed to derive from the phrase “dueño de casa,” which means “owner of a house.” The term is traditionally used in flamenco music or other art forms to refer to the mystical. We assume this to be akin to the kind of ´voodoo´ associated with New Orleans jazz, for instance, and certainly there was an air of mischief carried in the night’s music.

So what we had here tonight was an unusual fusion between jazz and swing, typical of a big band, and the flamenco of one of the most prestigious guitarists on the international music scene. Gerardo Núñez paired himself with the band’s saxophonist Kike Perdomo, and the guitarist was also accompanied on stage by the flamenco dancer Carmen Cortés. Flamenco today is a globally recognised music and is, of course, much in demand for its element of dance. Flamenco is seen as the most important root of Spanish music but not too many big bands have played this music. We were, therefore, seeing and hearing the researchers and precursors of the genre.
Being able to perform a concert with one of the few flamenco concert players was a real challenge for the BBDC. Gerardo Núñez is one of the most compelling exponents of integrating jondo sound into other musical schemes, in a fiery fusion. He composes music of enormous wealth and complexity, without ever losing the Flemish reference, and he himself performs it with a technical capacity of true virtuoso. Some of his creations are works of sumptuous beauty. In several of them his music comes to seem symphonic. Perhaps his real greatness, though, is best heard when he is alone with the guitar. ´His touch is pure jondura,´ say the critics, ´passionate goblin.´ Gerardo Núñez is one of the leaders of the current generation that has taken the guitar to complement many other genres of music, like Big Band.

Carmen Cortés was born in Barcelona to Andalusian parents, and is one of the most prestigious performers of modern Spanish dance. She is recognized nationally and internationally for the expressive force, in her hands, in her shoes and in her figures. Her dance is temperamental, fast and rapid: the flamenco dance of the old school, with emotion and a very personal vision. In her dance and her choreographies you can see the essence of Mario Maya flamenco, nervous, alive, electric, being carried away by time, the compass, the percussion of the shoes, and ´braceo´ used like to express and dance the silences.

Carmen and a male guest vocalist sat beside Gerardo Nuñez, across the stage and facing Kike Perdomo, who tonight was conducting the almost thirty musicians of Big Band Canarias. The first piece of music opened with a pretty, but rhythmic solo by Gerardo before he was joined by deep percussion from the beat box player, leading in the rest of the band to create a sonorous sound.

The second work was preceded by Kiko’s introduction of each individual band member. Again it opened with a solo guitar by Gerardo but soon all the band was involved, with some intricate piano work and soulful saxophone.

There was a solo piano offering to open the third number, joined by some high hat percussion and the beat box, and the keening voice of the vocalist then joined, and subsequently gave way to exquisite flamenco guitar.

Carmen and the vocalist had until now remained seated and had offered those complex hand claps that add so much to flamenco, but in this piece she stood, hitched up her full length, elegant dress to cut sharply etched figures as she prowled and stamped across the stage, seemingly responding to the urging of the singer. It was a furious, frenetic and urgent performance with the facial expressions apparently as important as the foot movements.

The next piece of music accompanied another dynamic, staccato dance. This included some solo spots amongst the ensemble playing but the dancing remained magnetic throughout.

The musical ensemble, Kike’s sax and Antonio’s vocals created a huge musical platform on which Carmen could fling her arms, crouch and crawl sometimes liked a whipped creature, before rising to full, stomping and stamping height in a manner which fully illustrated her femininity.

The final roar of approval from the audience was deafening and the maestro of the guitar, who had managed to make even his softest playing heard in the maelstrom, smiled serenely.

We had been surprised at the prospect of such a collaboration as that between Big Band music and flamenco guitar and dancing, but the following week at the same theatre another unlikely performance as shaped by contemporary dance accompanied by electric guitar.

Now in his early forties, Ainara LeGardon has been a professional music-maker for more than half his life. As an individual artist he has created a huge body of work in rock, improvisational and experimental music and has also collaborated extensively with others in those fields.
Born in Bilbao in 1976, Ainara was vocalist of the Spanish rock band, Onion, from 1994 until 2003. He then recorded her first solo album, In The Mirror, that was critically acclaimed by the Spanish music press. The album was produced by Chris Eckman, from one of my own favourite bands, The Walkabouts, and featured another member of the group, Joe Skyward, on bass, although Ainara released the collection on his own record label, Winslow Lab.

He then extensively toured Spain, France and Germany, (where he supported The Walkabouts), Belgium and Holland before recording a second album, Each Day A Lie, again featuring some musical illuminaries from the likes of Norwegian band, Midnight Choir. This was well received again by the music press all across Europe and on the supporting tour for the album he played with other musicians heavily featured in my cd collection, like Giant Sand and Bonnie ´Prince´ Billy.

His most recent and eponymous album was released in 2017 and was a collection of work all written, refined and recorded over several months in a studio. Throughout that process, he worked hand in hand with the producer, Xabier Erkizia, to bring to culmination the blending of many musical facets previously explored. As a professional musician for more than 25 years, Ainara has sculpted rock through improvisation and experimentation. That the accompanying texts on this album were, for the first time, in Spanish, enabled fans over here to reflect on the constant searches and reconciliations undertaken by this truly exploratory artist.

Respected rock critic Mark Gendre, of RockdeLux has spoken about how the album has seen Ainara ´release a beast from its straitjacket and allowed it to learn to walk on its own, even if it sometimes falls´. The critic speaks too of ´the haunting industrial haze´ of tracks like Tempano. He also praised the sixteen minute slow and folksy piece, Agota, for its contemplative feel.

According to Mark´s article in RockdeLux the album was ´the process and the end´ and, he continued, ´a shocking document of someone who has found the axis of rotation and wanted to show it to us in all its nakedness.´

On reading this, I worried that, perhaps like myself, the critic might be a writer of overblown hyperbola and flights of fancy that raise audience expectations to such heights that the artist cannot help but disappoint. I need have had no such worries here, though, as Ainara showed himself deserving of such praise and actually in doing so somehow also reminded us that some reviewers actually know what they are talking about. (no comment required by the reader, or editor, thank you.)

Ainara had, in fact, appeared in Arrecife the previous evening, too, providing live musical accompaniment for what its dance director called ´a visual reflection on how we relate, the choices we make, and how they affect the person next door.´

Eva Guerrero, is a member of DOOS Colectivo and creator of this piece of dance that won the Karrikan Prize 2017. With live music composed by Ainara LeGardon, the show, The End Of Things, was performed again at El Salinero on Thursday 21st November 2019. It illustrated forcefully just what Eva Guerrero was talking about; speaking of that moment when you feel everything turn upside down but you keep going forward as if nothing happened, that moment when you lose the rhythm. It spoke, too, of inertia and headwork, lack of control, of the animal, of what we would like to happen and what is actually likely to happen.

Garazi López de Armentia and Aritz López were the two dancers in charge of bringing to life the protagonists of this story, which featured production by Jemina Cano (DOOS Colectivo), the directorial eye of Ana Vallés and the costume designs of Begoña Díaz.

It was as though the dancers were performing on that thin-line boundary between what we shut in and what we let the world see. This was contemporary dance as it should be, graceful, athletic, aesthetically pleasing but slightly disturbing and massively thought provoking.

The music of Ainara LeGardon was the perfect back drop: optimistic but wary, communicative but guarded. It promised much for the solo performance the following night at Cic El Almacen.

We were not disappointed. This was a performance by a charismatic instrumentalist. He creates music of all genres that combine to paint new musical terrains, some shaped and sculptured like landscaped gardens, others bare and dry and sweltering in the sun, others rocky and windswept. There are reminders of Ry Cooder and echoes of John Stewart’s guitar tones in his own instrumental works like Betsy From Pike and it is not too far stretched to hear Ainara reaching for Hendrix type flamboyance, too. To say simply that his guitar repeated and ricocheted around the studio of Cic EL Almacen would be to deny the softness and subtlety this artist also brings to his instrument.