Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Portrait of Cecil Taylor as a young man

Playing the music(s) we call jazz is not an easy life, neither regarding the art itself, nor as a way to make a living. The reasons for anyone to follow that path fall beyond the realm of logic; art is a tricky business, and longevity and sheer stubbornness do not necessarily bring about recognition and financial support for the artist’s work. Luck and chance can make or break a career. Even so, there are men and women who work relentlessly to realize whatever shakes their spirits. If there is one musician who’s taken his art to an overwhelming standard of technical virtuosity, swimming against the strongest tides of disapproval, that must be Cecil Taylor, who turns 85 today.

© Naiel Ibarrola, 2014
Years before Ornette put any music on record, before Coltrane stepped firmly into the unknown, Taylor was hammering his way into the scene in New York, but he never quite made it, even if he was the first jazz act at the now legendary Five Spot, turning it into a bona fide jazz venue. He was not only aware of jazz and its traditions, but he claimed that his approach to form and composition was based on Duke Ellington's, and, being an astonishing virtuoso, had very definite ideas on the value and role of technique in fellow pianists such as Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver, two clear instances of technique being the consequence of the music itself. Even so, his arrival must have been similar to Henry Cowell's in the "classical" world, thirty or forty years earlier.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Paco de Lucía: an introduction in tangos, and a PS

In the obituaries devoted to Paco de Lucía, the comments have focused on his adventures beyond Flamenco and its fusion with other musics, but in actual fact he never strayed too far from his roots and the vast majority of his recordings can still be sorted in the palos, the different forms of the genre. As he himself said "there are other musics I admire, but they don't make me feel like Flamenco does. It just breaks you."

Paco de Lucía and Camarón de la Isla (picture by José Lamarca)
Among those palos, tangos — which, like Camarón and Paco, come from around Cádiz — must be the easiest to enjoy for anyone used to the 4/4 ever-present in pop, rock and a great deal of jazz. It not only shares the four-beat signature, but the accents also tend to fall on beats 2 and 4, where your typical hi-hat or snare drum wouldn't be so out of place.

Monday, March 3, 2014

RIP Francisco Sánchez

Francisco Sánchez, a/k/a Paco de Lucía (picture: ABC)
Francisco Sánchez's passing will leave us without any new adventures of Paco de Lucía, the shivers when he appeared on the stage, the ecstasy at the end of a concert. It will divide music lovers between those of us who saw him live and those who didn't. These will have to make do with a sizable amount of recordings and video footage he leaves behind, evidence of the several lives that Francisco Sánchez was able to fit in Paco's: Francisco Sánchez was just 66 when he died, but Paco had been a working musician for over fifty years. So much for Andalusians being lazy and all that.

For me, a child in the Seventies, my first impression of Paco, on TV, was that of a charismatic, handsome, and very serious-looking guy. He had long hair, parted on the side, and although he dressed in a contemporary way, he seemed to follow Seventies fashion from a prudent distance; still in his twenties, he was young too. And he played very fast.

Paco on TVE