Archive for the ‘Flamenco’ Category

Oh Vida!

Rubalcaba Dazzles at 11th Annual San Francisco Flamenco Fest

gonzRubalcaba Dazzles at 11th Annual San Francisco Flamenco Fest
Posted 3/17/2016

Flamenco has a firm foothold in the Bay Area, thanks to the 11th Annual San Francisco Flamenco Festival, which concluded on March 9 with a concert at the Herbst Theatre. Vocalist Esperanza Fernández and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba headlined a dual tribute to the Cuban sonero Beny Moré (1919–’63) and the Spanish Gypsy cantaor Manolo Caracol (1909–’73) dubbed “¡Oh Vida!” with Fernández serving as Artistic Director and Rubalcaba the event’s Musical Director.

Both pairings proved to be a perfect fit. Contemporaries, Moré and Caracol were popular entertainers as well as performing artists. Fernández and Rubalcaba, in turn, are each virtuosos comfortable investigating disparate musical styles and traditions.

During her introduction, Bay Area Flamenco Artistic and Executive Director Nina Menéndez explained that Fernández had performed at last year’s San Francisco Music Festival and mentioned she was pondering working on this project with Rubalcaba.

Menéndez first met Rubalcaba in Havana back in the late ’80s when he and her brother, guitarist Pablo Menéndez, played together in the band Sonidos Contemporáneos. In an earlier statement she expressed her enthusiasm about the possible collaboration and was able to present the project a mere five days after its March 4 debut in Miami.

The venue was darker than usual as the musicians, including bass guitarist J.M. Popo and percussionists Jorge “El Cubano” Pérez and José Fernández (no relation to Esperanza) took their places on the bandstand. It evoked an after-hours mood as various colored lights would illuminate the musicians in a minimalist fashion.

Rubalcaba alone was visible stage right as he provided an unaccompanied introduction to the evening’s titular bolero, a signature song of Moré’s. Utilizing soft chords and delicate single note excursions, he established an elegant, sweeping template.

Fernández’s impassioned crooning then cut across the rhythm section’s understated accompaniment. She clapped in syncopated support while Rubalcaba executed a surgically economical solo. Addressing the audience in Spanish, she then let Rubalcaba start the next number—“Popurrí de Zambras” from Caracol’s songbook. His sinuous lines contrasted with her sustained, horn-like singing.

When he soloed precisely and quietly, she accompanied with graceful dance-like arm movements. Though Rubalcaba enjoys a reputation as a mighty technician, he reminded listeners early on of the equally impressive delicately restrained aspect of his pianistic approach.

Pérez and José Fernández’s arsenal included cajons, congas and their own bodies. The two percussionists were energetic standouts on an infectious version of “Yiri-Yiri Bon.”

Even for non-Spanish speakers, Esperanza Fernández’s vocal delivery conveyed the sassy and assured lyrics. She reinforced a feeling of sensuality through her own brief expressive dance that preceded a Rubalcaba solo featuring crisp arpeggios.

Popo had he honor of doing the first non-Rubalcaba solo introduction of the set for Moré’s “Tú Me Sabes Comprender.” Manipulating the volume of his instrument, he made these abstract explorations sound like ocean waves.

In a true cultural crossover moment, Rubalcaba then played with a rapidity and fluidity that made the piano sound as if it was a strummed acoustic guitar. In a musically intimate moment, Fernández walked over to the pianist, turned to him while remaining in profile to the audience and seemingly serenaded her creative partner.

For the first of two medleys, Moré’s “¿Como Fue?” was partnered with Caracol’s “Gitana Blanca.” Popo again played first, plucking successive notes for another wet effect—a soft constant rain in this case. Esperanza Fernández snapped in time and then danced during Rubalcaba’s expansive solo.

In the latter segment, Fernández got her own solo showcase followed by an exquisite passage with just her and the two percussionists. Pérez and José Fernández were featured throughout the rest of the night.

The other medley, Moré’s “Santa Isabel de Las Lajas” and Caracol’s “Malva Loca,” closed the formal repertoire with the percussionists holding a de facto master class on clapping before tandem soloing on “Malva Loca” while employing a variety of their instruments.

The quintet was encouraged back to the stage and called an audible by presenting a true encore in the form of another version of “Yiri-Yiri Bon.” This one was shorter and looser, with a quicker tempo and Esperanza Fernández leading the enthusiastic crowd in a clap-along.

It was one final communal moment concluding a spirited and inspired program.

(Note: To read a 1972 Classic Interview with Dizzy Gillespie, click here.)

—Yoshi Kato

A Cuban Flamenco Round Trip With Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Esperanza Fernández – By Andrew Gilbert MARCH 7, 2016

A Cuban Flamenco Round Trip With Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Esperanza Fernández

 

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Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Spanish vocalist Esperanza Fernández meet in Oh Vida! (Courtesy: the artist)

By  

MARCH 7, 2016

 

In Spain, the expression ida y vuelta refers to a style of flamenco that absorbed Latin American influences and returned to the motherland. Translated literally as “roundtrip songs,” these tunes flowed most prolifically from Cuba, intersecting with rumba and guajiras.

But the collaboration between Cuban piano maestro Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Spanish flamenco star Esperanza Fernández involves a different kind of journey. Their project Oh Vida! — which concludes the 11th Annual Bay Area Flamenco Festival at the Herbst Theater on Wednesday, March 9 — celebrates the enduring influence of Cuban sonero Beny Moré(1919-1963) and Andalusian flamenco cantaor Manolo Caracol (1909-1973). Rather than making a round trip, Oh Vida! creates a new realm by revealing fervid emotional terrain via the shared improvisational imperative in jazz, son and flamenco.

Oh Vida! doesn’t present the music of Moré and Caracol as separate entities. As the project’s music director and arranger, Rubalcaba has spent nearly two years researching, pondering and designing a program that weaves together songs associated with Moré and Caracol, two supremely charismatic artists who redefined their respective art forms.

“Sometimes we’re listening to Beny Moré in the frame of flamenco harmonies together with Cuban rhythms and then you hear Caracol at the end of a song, like the Beny Moré hit ‘Como Fue,’” says Rubalcaba, 52. “The main purpose to make that sound natural, which is the most difficult thing. From the moment that I started working with this idea I found a lot of points in common, a lot of doors opened.”

During the golden age of Cuban music from the 1930s to the 1950s, when Havana’s torrid night life accelerated the evolution of styles and rhythms that swept the world (particularly son cubano, mambo and cha cha cha), Moré was at the center of the action. “Beny did everything — boleros, sonesmontunosguajiras,” Rubalcana says. “He made a recording with Orquesta Aragon singing cha cha cha. He tried many different styles and was a champion of everyone. Often you see people able to transmit a powerful lyric, a bolero, but they’re not powerful doing son, but he was able to do everything.”

Like so many flamenco stars, Caracol was born into a musical dynasty. Steeped in the music’s Gypsy roots, he was also one of the art form’s great crossover artists who reached an international audience in the 1940s performing with dancer, singer and actress Lola Flores. Some flamenco purists disdained his popular work, and his extravagant carousing damaged his reputation, but no one contested the extraordinary power of his voice.

At first glance, the intensity and anguish of Caracol’s flamenco might not seem to share much in common with Moré’s often playful and wise-cracking sones, but Nina Mendendez says that a deeper look reveals commonalities. “Flamenco has a whole area that’s incredibly humorous and playful, but it’s not what we hear about,” says the Bay Area Flamenco Festival’s founder and artistic director. “The art form is full of anguish and the darker side, but a very important part is the humorous side, which makes sense when you think of humor as a coping device in hard times.”

The collaboration between Rubalcaba and Fernández, who gave an incendiary performance at last year’s Flamenco Festival, grew out of a brief encounter in Seville a few years ago. Paired to perform in the documentary film Playing Lecuona, a musical celebration of the great Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, Rubalcaba came to the session largely unfamiliar with Fernández’s work.

“I knew her name, because she was already an important figure in flamenco,” he says. “I remember it took us about half an hour to understand the form and structure of Lecuona’s ‘Malagueña,’ and I was in love with the way she transmitted the music, the sound and power of the voice. There’s something chemical when you see somebody playing or doing art, and you connect or you don’t.”

Despite their evident chemistry, Rubalcaba didn’t foresee further collaboration until Fernández approached him and suggested exploring the music of Moré and Caracol. The project premiered Friday, March 4 at the Flamenco Festival Miami; Wednesday’s Herbst Theatre concert is the second-ever Oh Vida! performance. Featuring a percussionist from both traditions and a bassist, it proves to be a rhythmically charged encounter that honors the departed masters by creating something new.

“The first part of the process was to listen to them as much as we can, and then get divorced from that,” Rubalcaba says. “We don’t want to risk repeating what they did. We need to know what they did, but with a lot of respect find a way to combine rhythms and sounds — cajón, palmas, congas and bongos — and a vocabulary that goes from flamenco to jazz to Cuban music.”

 

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