Category Archives: Jazz, Fusion & Co.

GREC – Esperanza Spalding: Mixed

Not as pop as she looks (photo: Sandrine Lee)

Not as pop as she looks (photo: Sandrine Lee)

Another week, another pleasant night at Teatre Grec… mostly. Marketing rules in today’s troubled music industry – that is how Esperanza Spalding‘s concert was positioned as “jazz for those who love jazz… and for those who don’t often listen to jazz”. Well, not really. This lively bass player has the right looks, moves, and attitude to appeal to a wider audience, but what she does is actually pure, uncompromised jazz, and it can get a bit tough for untrained ears. The band was great, both in terms of collective sound and solos, but I was sort of disappointed by Esperanza herself: while her technique is sound and the way she mixes spoken word with singing as she introduces each song is charming, her voice is simply not strong enough to stand out among such a powerful group of musicians. I found her squeaky at times, and generally trying too hard to be the singer she is not. Judging from the live videos you find on the Web, it might have just been a bad day – but since that was when I happened to see her play, I was left with mixed feelings and one more reason to stigmatize what I call “desperate marketing”.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7 out of 10.

Paolo Conte: Spellbinding

"Let me take you on a trip..."

"Let me take you on a trip..."

Give it a try if… You see music as the simplest, noblest means of transportation through time and space.

Steer clear if… Venturing beyond Los Cuarenta Principales makes you feel dizzy or uncomfortable.

I often wish people knew more about what my beloved, battered home country has to offer apart from “bunga bunga” and spaghetti bolognese. Luckily a few artists have been able to cross borders and redeem our reputation: that is how, this week, the public gathered at the sold-out Auditori could witness a magical concert by cult musician Paolo Conte.

The Wizard of Jazz

At 74 years of age, Conte (who penned his first tune in 1964) is an indisputable living legend. From hits like “Via con Me” and “Azzurro”, often borrowed by other interpreters, to less overexposed treats like “Hemingway” and “Max”, his songs display a dazzling fusion between the culture of la provincia italiana and the Jazz tradition. They taste like whisky and smell like pipe tobacco; they have the power to plunge you into a poetic world whose palette goes from poker table green to smeared lipstick red – and leave you there, enchanted and dumbfounded, hoping some pickpocket will steal your return ticket to the age of the euro collapse and David Guetta.

"Make it double, Jack!"

"Make it double, Jack!"

Gran Soirée

Sounds charming? Wait till you see him live. The other night, our hero – who looks like he’s sitting at the piano even while he stands in front of the microphone – captivated the audience by pouring out his stories with peerless flair, accompanied by a big band oozing talent, sensitivity and pure joy. Compared to when I saw him years ago, he has acquired a new sobriety (so to speak): not a single note was wasted while he made love with silence in “Alle prese con una verde milonga”, or tinkered with rhythm changes in the stunning reworking of “Bartali”. Play for us forever, Paolo.

UPS score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 10/10 + Standing Ovation

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Formal

Pensive? I'm actually cutting my toenails...

Pensive? I'm actually cutting my toenails...

Give it a try if… You like sophisticated contemporary instrumental music.

Steer clear if… You only like tunes that give you a chance to tap your feet and shake your bootie.

Some artists, once they have got nothing left to prove, simply have fun by stretching their boundaries in multiple directions. One of them is Ryuichi Sakamoto who, after mesmerizing the electronic-savvy audience of last summer’s Sonar Festival with Alva Noto, came back to Barcelona this November with a quite different project, his “Trio Tour 2011”.

No Logo

The venue was the ever-enchanting Palau de la Musica; the occasion, a jazz festival which I will snobbishly refuse to name since – as Naomi Klein taught me several years ago – the fact that cultural events carry the name of their sponsors is a dangerous form of corporate colonization. Sakamoto was accompanied by veteran Jaques Morelenbaum (with whom, along with singing sister Paula, he recorded critics’ favourites “Casa” in 2001 and “A Day in New York” in 2003) on cello and young Judy Kang on violin.

Me, Me, Me

"De do do do, de da da da, is all I want to say to you..."

"De do do do, de da da da, is all I want to say to you..."

Sakamoto started out by breaking the ultimate barrier, literally putting his hands inside his Yamaha to pluck its strings and make strange, dissonant sounds which quickly brought me from “How modern!” to “Euch!”. The rest of the set was more institutional, including the mandatory Fukushima dedication, among oh-so-elegant renditions of old classics and new tracks. I found the leader a bit stiff – his composure and tense shoulders made him look and sound too self-conscious, perhaps even self-important and a few other adjectives beginning with “self-” – but all in all, he gave the powerful performance that everyone expected.

The Rest of the Gang

I wasn’t too impressed by Kang who, apart from delivering the leather pants factor, didn’t score too high in the listening department; my favourite by far was Morelenbaum, whose calm and generous presence made him appear like a shining rock on the dimly-lit stage. A special mention for the obscure geek sitting near Sakamoto behind a computer (yet another logo… guess which), who I suspect was secretly surfing the Web all evening while looking inspired and dropping a couple of echoes and reverbs here and there. You certainly don’t need me to tell you how great you are, Ryuichi, but with all due respect I’ll keep looking for satori somewhere else.

UPS score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7.5/10