Flamenco is the most iconic and stereotypical traditional music from Spain (mostly in the South). There are also other kinds of Spanish folk music in the other regions of the country, but they do not so deeply share those musical flavors that some musicologists trace back to India, Middle East and North-Africa, and which characterize flamenco. It must be also admitted that flamenco has reached much larger audiences all over the world, and has evolved into sophisticated fusions with jazz, classical, or Caribbean music, up to levels that no other traditional music from Spain has even dreamed about. Having said that, I must also admit that if I know something about Spanish trad/folk music, my proper knowledge about flamenco is very limited.
So now I have in my hands this CD ‘Al Aire’ from the band based in Austria, Reflejos, whose leader is the guitarist Beate Reiermann, and the other members are Anna Casado Colao (vocals), Paul Dangl (violin), Maria Petrova (percussion) and Jorge Mesa a.k.a. “El Pirata” (palmas). Reflejos mirrors four musicians with diverse multicultural artistic knowledge, and blows their joint creations into the air. Flamenco singing merges with modern harmonies, diverse rhythms, virtuous lines and jazzy improvisations.
In Barcelona Viennese guitarist Beate Reiermann develops her project “Reflejos” with Catalan flamenco singer Anna Casado. The lively city at the Mediterranean Sea inspires the guitarist to most of the compositions on „Al Aire“, ranging from compositions based on flamenco styles (Canto a la luna, Por Tangos, Wind Chimes, Peace, Guajira) to Sephardic melodies (La comida la mañana), odd meters (Walk with me) and Oriental rhythms in 13/8 (Persian Waltz) The term „Al Aire“, being also used in flamenco guitar technique, stands for creating something new, in a personal, improvised and therefore non-traditional way.
In Vienna violinist Paul Dangl joins in and with a skillful technique and intuitive feeling for folkloric music he adds jazzy improvisations and dynamic highlights to the ensembles' sound. The fourth member, Bulgarian percussionist Maria Petrova, provides rhythmic diversity, as much on the flamenco typical cajon as on oriental frame drums and darbuka. On "Al Aire" these four eclectic musicians come together to create a new sound and a new kind of flamenco.
A few more words about Beate Reiermann: Currently based in Vienna, she studied at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and expanded her competences during numerous stays, workshops and master classes in Venezuela, Spain and New York with artists like Rick Peckham, Lage Lund, José Luis Montón and others. Following her passion for Spanish music she moved to Spain to study of Flamenco Guitar at Esmuc Barcelona. Her musical projects transcend typical genre boundaries and vary from jazz to Latin, Spanish and Kurdish music as well as musical theater productions.
The CD ‘Al Aire’ starts with some bulerías (fast flamenco 12-beat rhythm) called ‘Canto a la luna’ (Song to the moon) beautifully performed with guitar, violin, cajón flamenco and voice. The following tune is named ‘Por tangos’, but careful, do not get these tangos confused with the Argentinean ones. Beyond the name, the tango flamenco has very little in common with the one from Rio de la Plata, but it is quite more related to the rumba flamenca instead. Although in this case, this southern Spanish style of rumba does have a significant relationship with the Cuban one. All along the record, the violin does an excellent job complementing the traditional flamenco sound of the guitar with jazz sonorities, such as it does in the third song ‘Peace’ (alegrias).
The tune ‘La comida de mañana’ (Tomorrow’s food) has Sephardic origins (Spanish—Jewish), and the north—African percussions, the fiddle and even the pronunciation of Anna Casado while singing in Spanish, all them together make a wise effort to balance out the personality of the song, so it does not get fully pushed into the field of flamenco by the powerful skills of the guitar. There is a song called ‘Guajira’ which shows again the strong connection and musical exchanges between the old peninsular music and the one from Cuba (one of the last Spanish colonies in S-America, until the end of the nineteenth century). The final song ‘Persian Waltz’, is a true exercise to demonstrate how the band Reflejos is setting their foundations on flamenco, although they are ambitious and successful on reaching their own style, in a sensible crossover with other traditions which were somehow connected in past history.
All what was said about the tradition of Flamenco music at the start of the prior CD review is again applicable to this other album. The word Rasgueo in Spanish means the action of pulsating or ‘scratching’ the strings of the guitar with the fingertips (strumming). Echo in English means… that: A reflection of sound that arrives at the listener with a delay after the direct sounds. But in Spanish, the verb Echo means: ‘I throw’ or ‘I pour’. Like saying: ‘I pour my creativity, my soul, into this work of art’. I do not know if there is any intention of this sort in the title of this album, but just in case.
In this CD ‘Echo’ we listen to nine songs written and performed in the Spanish guitar by Nikos Tsiachris, and yes, although the flamenco sonorities are the inspiring force of the record, the dominant influences of jazz music drive the journey along a quite diverse and colorful landscape. This balance is achieved thanks to: the trumpets of Martin Auer, the double bass of Martin Lillich, and the drum sets of Diego Piñera.
‘Echo’ starts with a Cuban style ‘Guajiras de Graciela’, then followed by ‘Lesbos’, a beautiful guitar piece with jazz ending, and a title that wants to remember the tragedies that are still taking place in that South-eastern European border in Greece. ‘Sonrisa’ (Smile) as mentioned in the CD booklet: “Is romantic, beautiful, simple and uncomplicated. Turn off the lights and light the candles - forget about the stress and put away your smartphone”.
The fourth tune ‘Echo’ is dedicated by Nikos to his 95-year-old grandmother, and the echoes of her past life. In this piece he does a talented introduction with the flamenco guitar and the clapping hands, that is gently followed by the percussions, the trumpet and the bass. ‘Dreieck’ (Triangle, in German of course) is another exercise of brief improvised creativity (or so it seems), an absolutely relaxed musical dialogue between the different instruments.
There is the song ‘Transito’, and Nikos says about it: “When the grand master of Flamenco died in 2014, the flamenco musicians in Berlin felt the need to pay homage to Paco de Lucia. This piece was created on this occasion, dedicated to the most important guitarist of flamenco history”. And of course on this case, the balance between jazz & flamenco tilts in favor of the second one.
The last song in the album written by Nikos Tsiachris is ‘Baracoa’, dedicated to the Cuban city which was the oldest Spanish settlement in the island. ‘Echo’ concludes with a classic, ‘Asturias’, published by Isaak Albeniz in 1892 and transcribed for the guitar by Andres Segovia in the mid twentieth century. In this case the prelude starts with the bass, then followed by the guitar, the drum set, the trumpet,…, the four of them developing an inspired and thrilling jazz rhetoric that give conclusion to a truly brilliant album.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Reflejos, (3)-(4) Rasgueo, (5) Paco de Lucia (unknown/website).