Juan Martin's Musica Alhambra Quintet
National Centre For Early Music
October 10, 2012
Spanish guitarist Juan Martinez
lives in Málaga, Andalucia, deep in flamenco country. He's also very familiar with UK concert stages, spending much of his time in London. Although stating that his Musica Alhambra project represents a rare meeting between flamenco and Arabic music, this isn't actually such a flighty concept given the embedded connections dating back to Moorish days. Collaborations between Andalucian and North African musicians are not massively unusual.
Martin's Musica Alhambra Quintet broadens the repertoire out even further, with Sephardic Jewish songs and influences from the Indian gypsy trail. The lineup included a strong element of multi-instrumental palette-changing. Paul Fawcus dodged from flute to clarinet to soprano saxophone. Louai Alhenawi swapped between ney flute and his percussion spread, which included goblet and small frame drums. The other percussionist, Chris Caran, also moved around his selective kit, at one stage even settling down to play tabla. Abdul Salam Kheir rationed out his involvement, but when he was onstage, singing and playing the oud, his presence made a significant impact, his voice making a vivid emotional connection.
Martin was retuning his guitar between almost every piece, joking that the English weather was too much for its body, following a master class down in Ronda, Spain. His style involved a contrast between delicate filigree details and more robust outbreaks of strafing strums. Martin refused to claim complete dominance, always allowing equal space for the other instruments. The driving concept wasn't so much guitar solos with backing, but rather a complete panorama of ensemble arrangements.
The entire concert was devoted to player permutations that continually refreshed the ears, with each member periodically taking a break, setting up smaller sub-groups at the service of each tune's requirements. The gig was almost sold out, and Martin took pleasure in forging a bond with the crowd, carefully explaining the background to each composition.
Much of the night was devoted to the 1996 Musica Alhambra
(Flamenco Vision) album, from which this band sprouted, but towards the end of the evening, the quintet played a piece from Picasso Portraits
(Flamenco Vision), one of Martin's earliest albums, released back in 1981. The reading was shorn of its original synthesiser part, and provided a prime example of Martin's anecdotal talents. He regaled the audience with an involved tale of performing at Pablo Picasso's 90th birthday party, as a terrified child prodigy. Then, it was Fawcus, who took the second set up to its ultimate climax, with a soprano solo that rose towards higher and higher levels of detail and excitement, right up to the free-form sonic edge.
October 12, 2012
The UK blues scene seems to be suddenly awash with younger talents, all making bold ascents with their nascent careers. Some of these players are female, which doubles the freshness factor. Meaning that the blues scene has mostly been a moonshine brewing den for potent male juices. Chantel McGregor plays guitar and sings, with the six strings providing her most powerful means of expression. She recently won in the 'Female Vocalist of the Year category at the British Blues Awards
, although it's her guitar solos that emit the most potent thrill. The tour was lengthy, but this was almost a homecoming, as she hails from nearby Bradford.
The key to what makes McGregor interesting is the sheer variety of her material. Her own songs are violently rocking one moment, then soft to the point of almost departing the blues zone and becoming ballad pop. During this 90-plus minute set, she also played tunes by Jimi Hendrix
and Stevie Nicks ("Gold Dust Woman," from her Fleetwood Mac
days). This latter was part of a midway solo acoustic spot, which had the audience clutched in a spell of silence. Rejoined by her bassist and drummer, the rest of the set reclaimed an aggressively seething intensity, with several extended guitar solos bleeding through her already wounded amplifier. Previous dates had suffered from blowing valves, so now McGregor had the luxury of being able to switch between two amplifiers, giving both of them a testing time. McGregor displayed a noticeably energised connection with her drummer, entering a rampaging dialogue that kept escalating in extremity. Despite a preference for the rugged end of McGregor's repertoire, her gentler selections did add to the dynamic shading, so provided, perhaps, a necessary calming point.
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead...
October 14, 2012