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Paco de Lucia sat cross-legged, center stage, minimally illuminated, playing flamenco jazz that took my breath away with its virtuosity. How could this one guitarist be producing this many notes, I wondered, as I listened to the rich, soulful music that sprang from the south of Spain centuries ago. Flanking him were members of his sextet, even more dimly lighted, barely more than shadowy silhouettes, tapping out ever-changing rhythmic patterns on drums, other percussion instruments and clapping their hands, a staccato sound emulating the clicking of the heels of the imaginary dancers. What they call 'palmas.' At intermission, the lights went up and I discovered what I should have realized ... that Paco's accompanists included a bassist and rhythm guitarist, adding richness and depth that did not lessen my admiration for the lightning-fingered leader one iota.
After the somewhat restrained first set, the stage lights brightened for Act II, the two women handclappers revealed their true calling as passionate vocalists, a flute and soprano saxophonist sat in, and de Lucia and friends really cut loose. Roar after roar of approval welled up from the capacity crowd, which was multicultural and knowledgeable, calling out requests in Spanish. De Lucia spoke not a word all evening, so flamenco novices like myself were in the dark as to what compositions he was playing. But it mattered little ... the music spoke for itself. The artist has been criticized by flamenco purists for incorporating other influences ... including jazz ... into his playing over the years. Perhaps there were improvisational aspects to this performance. Certainly, he and his accomplices burned up the stage on many a solo. But to me, this was flamenco played with almost superhuman dexterity and deep-rooted passion, just the ingredients that make for great jazz. Bravo!
Jazz is a creative explosion of individual freedom and communication.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was a kid. My father had a music store.
The best live performance I ever attended was Kenny Garrett in Harlem, New York.
The first jazz record I bought was Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins.
My advice to new listeners is keep listening!