Guitarrísimo: Santiago Lara — Flamenco Tribute to Pat Metheny

Wednesday 22nd of February – Sadlers Wells

Well. Not one for the purists. As we trooped in to the small and intimate Lilian Bayliss studio we were greeted by the site of a piano and a drum kit. a piano! No no this won’t do, this won’t do at all, what does Santiago Lara think he’s playing at. Flamenco with all it’s heart wrenching emotional power and jazz, whose where-on-earth-is-it-going-to-go-next rhythms are the epitome of life itself, I can’t see this working. Indeed, after the first song Lara gracefully acknowledges the audience by saying good night, it doesn’t seem quite right.

Well. One standing ovation later, to the sounds of whooping and hollering and other more traditional Spanish noises, I can honestly say that this was some of the most beautiful guitar playing I have ever heard. Lara’s playing was masterful on every song, sometimes driving flamenco power, sometimes light jazzy flourishes that were ably accompanied by the piano (which deliberately or not seemed much quieter in the mix) and drums.

Even with jazz rhythms and breaks, the guitar playing was unmistakably flamenco and it perfectly skipped over the top or drove through the accompaniment with joyful results

Mercedes Ruiz came out for a couple of songs, and perfectly complimented the jazz infused music with some powerfully elegant dancing, that reconfirmed my feelings from the night before, that Flamenco is one of the most sensual dances in the world. Mix it with Jazz however, and that is something beautifully different.

Cía. Mercedes Ruiz — Déjame que te baile

Tuesday 21st Feb at Sadlers Wells

This was a slow burner. Mercedes Ruiz in all her pomp, starting with fingers clicking, her arms swaying hypnotically or even at times snapping with the music, an unflamenco touch that suited the night, that built up into a virtuouso performance with Flamenco elegance and passionate power . The accompanying guitar was soft, the voices and clapping audible but meant to underline the dancing, not distract from it.

Watching Ruiz early on I was mesmerised as usual by the movement, trying to think of the right word for Flamenco. But I couldn’t come up with just one. There is power, there is passion, but as I watched the arms, fingers the body strut and sway, it was the dress that caught my eye. For an instant it reminded me of a snake, but a snake as a temptation of something good.the dress slid with a languid uncoiling around those stomping feet, but there was nothing dark, it was altogether sensual.
At other times, arms raised like a bull, there was sheer power in Ruiz’s performance, she clearly commanded the floor, strutting like a bird with prize plumage through each song.

One of the costume changes saw Ruiz appear in a red suit, that she owned as well as an many male flamenco dancer would hope to do. It was wonderful, the power slipped into elegance, as the trousers allowed the audience to see the technical side of the woman’s dance, normally so well concealed underneath the traditional dress.

As usual the guitar and accompanying singers had their own moments, but it was Ruiz herself that powered the show and at the end, she rightly drew the appreciation of the packed hall that burned with more than a little Flamenco fever.

Jurassic 5 All Nighter – Chali 2na, Krafty Kuts, Mr Thing and DJ Nu-Mark

Let’s take you back to the concrete streets
Original beats with real live mc’s
Playground tactics
No rabbit in a hat tricks
Just that classic
Rap s**t from Jurassic

It was concrete streets that introduced me to Jurassic 5, and still Power in Numbers is one of my all time favourite albums. The 4 MC’s running the track, passing the lyrics between them like a relay baton, some times mid line, some times all holding it at once. Their rap was understandable not undecipherable and the beats from Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark were for me the embodiment of great Hip Hop.

It was always Chali 2na’s deep baritone voice that I loved, although the interplay between all the rappers were what made J5 so good, the track didn’t seem complete until Chali rumbled in, so while I wasn’t sure what it would be like to see him on his own, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see him live, and then see Nu-Mark at the after party.

I arrived just as A Skillz was finishing the warm up, and shortly after Krafty Kuts and Chali 2na came out onto the stage to a welcome louder than seemed possible from the size of the crowd. Playing old school Hip Hop with Chali rapping over the top the crowd were bouncing and dancing from the opening tune. Although there were a number of phones in the air recording bit and pieces, when Chali implored the crowd to put their hands high nearly every one did, something that seems to be becoming rarer these days.

I didn’t know all the songs that they did, but they in no way lessened the sheer pleasure of hearing him rap, and at one point he busted out the robot which was loudly appreciated by the crowd.

The highlight though was Krafty Kuts playing a new track, It Ain’t My Fault which features Chali and MC Dynamite, who guested. Watching Dynamite and 2na interact on the stage, and the smile on 2na’s face, it felt that as good as he is on his own, Chali misses the rest of the J5 crew on stage to interact and share the flow with. At one point he told the crowd that J5 was his past, his present and his future, and as much as he is clearly enjoying working with Krafty Kuts, it almost feels like a fling, until the time comes for a full on re-union.

He finished with concrete streets and Krafty blasted out Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved that brought the house down and was a fitting end to a gig filled withgreat tunes.
As people flowed out the doors, making their way down through Islington to Nu-Mark, Chali jumped down to the barriers and patiently chatted and took photo’s with the crowd, about 20 minutes later I has my own photo and headed out into the night.

I walked into the Runnin’ by the Pharcyde at the after party  as Mr Thing scratched and turntabled his way through a large portion of the Tribe Called Quest back catalogue and some Hip Hop classics. Nu-Mark came on at half 1 and switched it up a notch, and switched the styles to play some brilliant beats mixed in with old school classics, and a slice of disco. I spent the entire time dancing in amongst the crowd who all had the same appreciation as I did for the music.

At 3am I finally stood still, aching all over, with a free CD from Nu-Mark and another photo. My knees hurt, my legs hurt but it was worth it, the whole night had been filled with great beats still reverberating through my head as I headed home through the concrete streets.

The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel

Eusebio coughs a little. “You haven’t been sharing these insights with Father Cecilio, have you?”
Father Cecilio, is their local priest – and the subject of much eye-rolling on Maria’s part. In her presence the poor man always looks like the chicken in the coop that hasn’t laid enough eggs.
“What, and have us excommunicated? That dimwit is the very hammer of literalism that insults my faith. He’s as dumb as an ox.”
“But he means well,” Eusebio suggests smoothly.
“As does an ox.”

I will confess this is my first return to Yann Martel since the Life of Pi, and it came mostly down to the fact it was part of an offer in Waterstones and partly that it was based in Portugal. I read the blurb on the back but didn’t quite realise what it meant, as I was expecting a rolling novel but instead the High Mountains of Portugal is in fact in 3 parts, connected by a longing for home, and chimpanzees.
Up first is Tomas, a man crushed by grief who walks backwards. What is there to say about that? He has some good arguments for it as well.

In response Tomas has come up with good arguments in defence of his way of walking. Does it not make more sense to face the elements – the wind, the rain, the sun, the onslaught of insects, the glumness of strangers, the uncertainty of the future – with the shield that is the back of one’s head, the back of one’s jacket, the seat of one’s pants? These are our protection, our armour. They are made to withstand the vagaries of fate. Meanwhile, when one is walking backwards, ones more delicate parts-the face, the chest, the attractive details of ones clothing-are sheltered from the cruel world ahead and displayed only when and to whom one wants with a simple voluntary turn that shatters one’s anonymity.

By chance finds the diary of an old priest which leads him on a journey to the high mountains of Portugal (see what he did there), which, it turns out, aren’t very high at all.
Tomas travels there in one of Portugal’s first motor cars, something that causes him no small amount of grief and anxiety in itself and which Martel uses to create one of only jarring moments in the whole book, towards the end of part one.

In Father Ulisses, Tomas finds someone who he feels suffering mirrors his own. His journey, which he likens to the old priest, is where he tries to cope with his suffering, almost imitating the priest, giving up his job, and not washing as he reaches the end of his mission.

Maria Luisa Motaal Lozora, who is introduced in part two, is my favourite character in the book. Who puts forward the most compelling explanation of Jesus using Mrs Marple and Poirot, no mean feat, and who places Paul of Tarsus as the originator of Christianity after he solved the whodunnit of Jesus’s death. Her part is small though, as the second part focuses on her husband, Dr Eusebio Lozora and his experience with another Maria, Maria Dores Passos Castro and her husband, who she has packed in a suitcase and brought to the hospital. It is here that you feel the echoes of the Life of Pi, with the magical island and Martel’s game of see just how far he can push your imagination before it snaps. Mine didn’t and it is a poignant, if not fantastical look at losing a loved one.

Lastly we meet Peter Tovy who meets, and feels so instantly connected to Odo that he quits his job and moves to, can you believe it, the high mountains of Portugal. Nothing odd there at all, except maybe that Odo is a chimpanzee. He settles down in a sleepy town and lives carefree days with the excited if not perplexed community, much to the consternation of his son, but much to the delight of Odo.

The High Mountains reminded of Saramago, for location and manner of the storytelling. Tomas’ uncle the aloof aristocrat who Saramago would have subtly scorned, but this was less Saramago, the prose far too punctuated for the Portuguese master. Even so, I think I completely missed the moral of the story, and just soaked in Martel’s Portugal and  it’s characters. Before I realised they were 3 separate yet interrelated stories, as part two carried on I kept thinking, this is all well and good Maria, but where is Tomas? As my brain caught up with my eyes it started to look for the themes that slide through the story. The three parts are tales of grief, about home and where to find it when your anchor has been ripped from you, yet all three are tender and shot through with some wonderful comic moments that make the High Mountains a place worth visiting, particularly if you have a chimpanzee.

“The horn. To warn, to alert, to remind, to coax, to complain.” His uncle squeezes the large rubber bulb affixed to the edge of the automobile, left of the steerage wheel. A tuba-like honk, with a little vibrato, erupts out of of the trumpet attached to the bulb. It is loud and attention-getting. Tomas has a vision of a rider on a horse carrying a goose under his arm like a bag pipe, squeezing the bird whenever danger is nigh, and cannot suppress a cough of laughter. 

 

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U2 -Mysterious Ways

After something of an unexpected hiatus, I’m aiming to carry on with my Life in Music series of posts, looking back at the songs that I’ve grown up with, that revealed a new direction to me and that soundtrack some of my favourite memories.

Music is probably the biggest passion in my life, it features much more in my life than my books do, mostly just out of practicality, I never leave the flat without my ipod yet I never really take a book with me (I don’t like them getting tatty).

So we come to U2. Or more specifically Achtung Baby, my first U2 album. This album is the soundtrack to Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo. I received both for Christmas and would put the CD on loop while I jumped, flew, rode Yoshi and grabbed mushrooms in my mission to unlock all 99 levels.

While I loved most of the songs on the first hearing, there were a couple that took a while to grow on me, and even to this day I still can’t say I love Acrobat.

It was Mysterious Ways though that went onto my casettes for the car and my walkman (I know, I’m revealing my age here), edging out the album opener, Zoo Station. The crashing wall of the guitar leading into bongo’s and rumbling base and Bono’s pleading vocals making the song an epic rock track..
I missed getting to see the tour for various reasons, but when watching the Zoo TV video (there’s no point trying to hide it now) I fell in love with it again when they revved up the guitar, added a big dollop of keys, some funky bass, and for good measure threw in a dancer (Morleigh Steinberg, or Mrs Edge). It’s this version I’ve bunged in at the bottom of the post.

Over time Ultraviolet (light my way) and Tryin’ to throw your arms around the world overtook Mysterious Ways, and I could easily write about every song on the album (think they’ll be another post coming) but it was Mysterious Ways that drew me in, and started my love affair with U2. Since drafting this post I’ve been listening to the album on repeat on my ipod, and it’s still stands the test of time.

 

The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of Pilgrimage – Murakami

When he felt hungry he stopped by the local supermarket and bought an apple or some vegetables. Sometimes he ate plain bread, washing it down with milk straight from the carton. When it wasn’t time to sleep, he’d gulp down a glass of whiskey as if it were a dose of medicine. Luckily he wasn’t much of a drinker, and a small dose of alcohol was all it took to send him off to sleep. He never dreamed. But even if he had dreamed, even if dreamlike images arose from the edges of his mind, they would have found nowhere to perch on the slippery slopes of his consciousness, instead quickly sliding off, down into the void.

So I was straight back in the wild weird world of Murkami from page one, a world in which all of his characters live in a world that is tilted slightly off from our own but that Murakami makes normal by his minimal functional prose and touches of everydayness (think I’ve just made up that one).

Tsukuru Tazaki is one of the most normal characters I have come across in a Murakami novel, except maybe his slightly odd passion for railway stations, and maybe the way he observes where people have colour in their names, contrasting with his own colourlessness, which is a reason he believes he’s a nobody. However, after forming an incredibly strong bond with four other people in the formative years of his life, he is suddenly and inexplicably cast out from the group and left on his own.

After coming to terms with his sudden isolation Tazaki has few friends and even fewer girlfriends, but one convinces him to go back to his old friends and find out why he was so cruelly expelled from of their lives.

It actually sounds like a normal story, and it very nearly is. Except it’s Murakami, so it’s all slightly kooky, but a good if not weird kooky. The thoughts and experiences of the characters sometimes verge on borderline horror, and I do wonder if this is normal for Japanese people, or if it’s just Murakami, or if it’s something hidden with the Japanese psyche that Murakmai has tapped into. I didn’t want to guess at the reason why his friends broke off contact from Tazaki. I knew I would never be able to guess, but I think also I was scared that I might guess right, and that would mean I’d be in Murakami’s world.

This isn’t a dream, Tsukuru decided. Everything is too distinct to be a dream. But he couldn’t say if the person standing there was the real Haida. The real Haida, in his actual flesh and blood, was sound asleep on the sofa in the next room. The Haida standing here must be a kind of projection that had slipped free of the real Haida. That’s the way it felt.

Tazaki spends considerable time thinking about the reasons he doesn’t hold down friendships, and his theories touch upon universal feelings of belonging and friendships that Murakami explores in his own slightly abstract way, without becoming sentimental or mawkish. Driven by his girlfriend who correctly spots that in order for him to fulfil his life he needs to clear out the debris of his past, Tazaki resolves to find out what prompted the exile that had so far defined his life.
So in his own methodical and understated way, Tazaki finds and meets up with his friends to try and understand what happened to their incredible friendship.

I don’t want to reveal too much, and Murakami resists tying up all the loose ends, seems to even resist giving the story an ending. It is Tazaki himself that seems to reach a milestone, and it’s a good place to stop. At the end what makes colorless Tazaki such a great character is not the fact that he’s a nobody, but that in fact, he’s everybody.

He thought about Sara, her mint-green dress, her cheerful laugh, and the middle-aged man she was walking with, hand in hand. But these thoughts didn’t lead him anywhere. The human heart is like a night bird. Silently waiting for something, and when the time comes, it flies straight toward it.
He shut his eyes and gave himself over to the tones of the accordion. The monotonous melody wended it’s way through the noisy voices and reached him, like a foghorn, nearly drowned out by the crashing waves.

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