Juan Martin – review of St Davids Hall Concert May 2010

July 23, 2010 at 11:28 1 comment


Juan Martín Flamenco Ensemble: Juan Martín (guitar), Carlos Brias (vocal), Raquel de Luna, Miguel Infante (dancers), Paul Fawcus (reeds), St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, 18.5.2010 (GPu)

Juan Martín is well established as a major figure amongst flamenco guitarists. He is a particularly interesting musician because of the way in which, steeped as he is in the tradition of flamenco, even a kind of scholar of the music, he has never been content to let that great tradition restrict his musical imagination. His musical CV incorporates sessions with such jazz greats as Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis; he has recorded as a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; one of his most intriguing recordings, Musica Alhambra (Flamenco Vision FV 04), finds him exploring the Moorish roots of flamenco, taking in Indian gipsy idioms and Sephardic song along the way, and including a duet improvisation with the oud player Abdul Salam Kheir. So, grounded as he is in the tradition he knows so well and which he obviously loves and respects, he is also a constant innovator, ever ready to stretch the boundaries of contemporary flamenco.

For this concert in Cardiff (for which the audience was sadly not large – though everyone there seemed more than satisfied by what they saw and heard) he was joined by cantaor Carlos Brias, bailaoro Raquel de Luna and bailor Miguel Infante, with Paul Fawcus providing orchestral colouration on clarinet and soprano saxophone in some numbers. Martín has a prodigious technical ability on his instrument, but one never feels that this is an end in itself or that it becomes mere display. It always seems to be in the service of music-making of real intensity, in which passionate expression is combined with structural complexity. Martín began the evening with two solo pieces, including a version of the tarantas, Linares, which can be heard on one of his solo CDs (The Andalucian Suites, Flamenco vision FV 01), full of keening melancholy.

The dancers Raquel de Luna and Miguel Infante were imperious and commanding presences in all that they did, from the Sevillana which was their first contribution to the evening to the hectic climax of the concert. Raquel de Luna has worked with Martín for some time and it is not hard to see why he would admire the grace and delicacy of her work, as well as its sinuosity and sensuality. Infante is, I think, a newer addition to Martín’s touring company. Initially there seemed a slight stiffness in his work, full though it was of proper arrogance and command. As the evening went on, however, any hint of stiffness disappeared and his work grew more and more striking, remarkable for the muscular control of foot and leg movements and for his rhythmic precision, his finest moments being comprehensively commanding in their virtuosically percussive strutting. The two dancers worked superbly together, characteristic of the way that this, like all good flamenco ensembles, was mutually energising, mutually encouraging. Raquel de Luna’s movement, subtle and yet exact, was a constant joy, her ‘Indian’ hand-movements an eloquent (and elegant) reminder of one of flamenco’s putative sources, her variation of tempo endlessly fascinating.

For me the singer Carlos Brias was an impressive discovery. This tour marked his UK debut and I haven’t so far been able to discover that he has made any recordings – he surely will. The best of his work (and I, at least, would have appreciated his being featured even more extensively) was soaked in a ‘moorish’ sound-world and some of his long unaccompanied lines and melismatic runs were utterly spine-chilling. His dialogue with Martín’s guitar accompaniment was remarkable, an emotional and musical conversation in which each seemed to take the lead by turns.

Martín, accompanied by the assured musicianship of Fawcus, played some of his arrangements of Sephardic songs, music outside the idioms of contemporary flamenco, but flavoured, as it were, with that later form as played by Martín; the results were beautiful and expressive, melodies shaded and decorated by Fawcus’ breathy clarinet, Martín’s work on the guitar combining respect for tradition with a personal freedom of interpretation in a manner wholly characteristic of this fine artist.

The whole evening was a marvellous display of the richness of one of the great musical traditions, and of its origins and its later offshoots, a tradition which while there are musicians as good as Martín and his colleagues to interpret it, is in no danger of becoming merely nostalgic or ossified at the level of tourist-fodder. Long may such creativity, such technical skill and such disciplined musical passion flourish!

Glyn Pursglove


Entry filed under: One world, Reviews. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. jazzmouse  |  July 23, 2010 at 11:29

    Thankyou Glyn. great review 🙂


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