|§| Ottmar Liebert's heading for a gig in Austin, Texas, 2005 or maybe it's 06, he's not sure because he's wondering if in fact he dreamed this: the snow storm, the tour bus labouring down from the Stockton Plateau on a back road near the I 10 which was shut down because of a big multi-vehicle crash, weather so bad even the coyotes were staying home in bed. Driver sees this man on the shoulder, barely moving. "We had to stop," says OL. "This was the middle of nowhere and I mean, it was brutal out there. Native American, Indian, possibly Mexican... was wearing a cloak and hat in the old desert style. He sat up front with our driver, drank coffee, and we let him out in El Rondo, near the Burger King. I didn't talk to him but he caught my eye as the bus was pulling away... and it struck me that I knew him from someplace. It was much later when I thought about my old friend Frank Howell and his paintings, especially the one called The Messenger. So you see, when I'm looking through the bus window at this stranger, maybe I'm not looking at a face, I'm looking at a painting or...."
Was this stranger in the snow a messenger?
"In my dream he left behind a CD, a data disc with no writing on it, like a master. When I listened to it, it was me & Luna Negra, although the tunes weren't anything I'd written. The music was beautiful, like something I wanted to do but hadn't."
Frank Howell died suddenly in 1997. "He was a gentleman," says OL. "We only had a handshake-agreement regarding Nouveau Flamenco, but he didn't flinch when he handed over the master at the end of 1990."
Visual art is integral to Ottmar Liebert's world-view -- in his youth he studied graphic design in Cologne, Germany, and to this day is a compulsive photographer -- because, like flamenco, painting is an integer between the flesh and the spirit. "My music is visual," says OL. "Santa Fe has great light, that special thing you get in the high desert. Some days you can see for a 100 miles, think you can reach into the sky or walk off a ridge and keep flying. Guess that's how I felt when I recorded Nouveau Flamenco."
Nouveau Flamenco. Recorded for less than $3,000 in a shack beside a gravel pit on an old analogue reeler, this CD became an international sensation, went Platinum in six years, established OL's unique border-style flamenco. The album's genesis is a classic tale of independent expression as entrepreneurial karma. Local Santa Fe artist Frank Howell wanted an audio illustration for his series of lithographs Marita: Shadows and Storms and arranged for the pressing of a limited edition (1000 copies) CD to be distributed with his prints. "Frank had a tradition of producing a music project, which would be revealed and distributed during his annual Indian Market Gallery party," says OL. "Someone in his office sent out a few promo copies of Marita to some radio stations and it just took off."
Indeed it did. Programmers added tracks to their playlists and soon stations like KKSF in San Francisco and The Wave in L.A. were making hits out of "Santa Fe" and "Barcelona Nights". This "new flamenco" came to the attention of Higher Octave Music, a label in Los Angeles, who remastered Marita and released it in 1990 as Nouveau Flamenco.
The title, as most know, was a joke, a play on "nuevo flamenco", was an outsider's deference to the gypsy core of flamenco. Or it was a cheeky statement by a citizen of the punk generation, appropriating flamenco for his own creative purposes. "I wanted to make the rumba rhythm more groove-oriented," says OL. "I felt this new music would relate to Flamenco the way Bossa Nova relates to Samba."
Marita: Shadow & Storms
"Frank heard me playing somewhere in the summer of 1989, suggested the project. I recorded the album in 3 weeks. Frank entitled the album Marita: Shadows and Storms and named most of the tracks. Our handshake agreement was that he would press 1,000 CDs which he would give away to clients and friends, and sell at his gallery, and then he would give me the master free and clear."
"There's a supernatural feel about Frank's painting," says OL. "Like looking in a mirror and finding the spirit world.
"I preferred his drawings which grabbed me more, but he rarely showed them. His paintings were pretty slick and while impressive, didn't move me as much. He was a gentleman. We only had a handshake-agreement regarding Nouveau Flamenco, but he didn't flinch when he handed over the master at the end of 1990. While I was working on NF, Frank told me stories about a summer he spent in Portugal, following the great Fado singer Amália Rodrigues from gig to gig in a rented Porsche 911. This was sometime in the early Eighties, I think. The piece Flowers of Romance was inspired by that story."
I was honestly happy playing this music in hotels and restaurants in Santa Fe. In one year, going from doing that to opening for Miles Davis was a pretty intense jump. Most shocking for me was to realize how many different people from so many diverse cultures embraced it.
"I wasn't wild about the Higher Octave remaster," says OL. ""They boosted the volume so much that radio-stations actually had to remember to turn it down, because it would overload their signal. However, I can't dispute the record's success and that it gave me the opportunity to play in a wide variety of cultural settings with musicians from around the world, and that has been a great experience, too."
Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra
Jon Gagan, bassist: "We toured incessantly as a trio with Dave Bryant on percussion for two years in '90 and '91. Just the 3 of us with Stefan Liebert as tour manager and front-of-house sound man. We opened for Miles and did two tours opening for Basia. I loved that group because we had to bring some jazz and even power-trio elements to it in order to stir it up with 3 guys for these big shows. Lots of group improvising and throwing the ball around with the solos. Being that Ottmar was still building his name, we had a lot to prove, and it was a great challenge."
|§| Ottmar Liebert was born in 1961 in the old Roman city of Cologne, Germany, situated on the Rhine river, famous as the birthplace of the surrealist Max Ernst... and as the locale of the longest running Kolsch party in Europe, the November Carnival.
"It was quite easy growing up in Cologne," says OL. "I could walk anywhere without worrying about being ambushed by any punks when coming home from school or using the transit... the U Bahn or the S Bahn. I liked the museums and galleries and a lot of the new architecture that was going up in the reconstruction. We lived on the other side of the river, in Deutz, so I did a lot of walking... still do.
I read very early on, he says. We didn't have a TV. We didn't get one until my grandparents moved up to a color one, and I was 12 years old. And we didn't have a phone until then either.
"Hopf -- German guitar, classical model, spruce top -- under $100. I was 11 at the time. My parents didn't think I would stick with it. Bought an inexpensive EKO Steel String a few years later, but nylon remained my favorite."
"Never went to the conservatory. Entered a special program which brought a conservatory teacher to my junior highschool for one group-lesson per week -- only $20/semester -- what a deal! Teacher liked me and would teach the other students for 30 minutes, then send them off and teach me by myself for the next 30 minutes. That built my confidence and really spurred me on. I stayed in the program for 3 or 4 years and learned a lot."
Patagonia Express, Paul Theroux. "I hadn't read Theroux's book then -- well, was it even published? -- but my idea was the same: he gets on the subway in Boston, then keeps taking trains until he gets to the tip of South America. I wanted to get on the train in Cologne, go east, see how far it would take me. So I took the Paris-Moscow Express from Cologne to Moscow in 1978. The sound of the rails is still in my head from that trip."
Something else too -- a man who got on the train in Warsaw. "I was reading, became aware that he was looking at me. When I responded, he said, 'You are a guitar player' and naturally I wanted to know how he knew this, and he said it was my finger nails. Fair enough. Then he said, 'Have you been in China?" and I said no, but that my grandfather spent some time there. This man looked like a gypsy although he was dressed like a business man and I thought maybe he was Hungarian by the way he spoke English. Come to think of it, he looked like Carlos (Santana).
"He was joined by a beautiful woman wearing a white fox fur, the way they did in the 20s, and I remember saying something stupid, like, 'Will it be snowing in Moscow?' I dozed off and when I woke up, they were gone... and my nails were gone too, like I'd chewed them off! It was crazy, something I'd never done before ever, guess I must've been apprehensive about crossing into Russia -- it was still the Soviet Union then -- although there was no reason to be. Brezhnev was in power and it was the era of 'detente'.
"I wanted to keep going on the Trans-Siberian, get to China... it was just an idea, a fantasy really. I was just 17."
He drove to Paris, slept below the bushes on the Champs d'Elysee. He hitch-hiked through Spain, played his guitar on the beaches. He drank wine, watched the Guardia Civil patrolling the intersections, breaking for shadows & cigarettes.
School? Forget it. One day in May of 1979 Ottmar Liebert flies to New York... and the next 7 years are spent on the East coast, mostly in Boston. He says, "I played at a lot of Rock clubs, like the Rat (Rathskeller), and Spit, and the Channel in Boston... I sounded different in those days -- my band once opened for Ministry, which will give you an idea how different my music then was. In Spring of 1986 I arrived in Santa Fe and decided I wanted to do something completely different."
"Youll find Deutz on the eastern bank of the Rhine. The Romans called it Divitia... nice name, maybe I'll use it for an album one day. The Südstadt is a good part of town for finding live music bars, and theaters. You'll see street performers there, like organ grinders and buskers. The Belgian Quarter has many old buildings, makes it nice for walking & sightseeing. No hustlers, no hassles."
OL, April 6th, 1994:
Woke up @ 7:30am as usual, turned around + slept a little more, got up B4 nine. Took a shower + made some green T. Began 2 design a T road case. Decided we shoudnt go out opening 4 Michael Bolton this summer. We have a company 2 run, salaries 2 pay, mouths 2 feed, a studio 2 equip + a live CD 2 record, mix, master + deliver by September 1st. And listening to Bolt-on nightly would probably kill me.
"I've used snippets of field recordings ever since the album The Hours Between Night + Day. In 1992 I bought a DAT recorder, and everywhere I went I'd record stuff: the little Vespa in Italy coming through the small streets, a train making a turn, rain, water, all sorts of stuff. I tried to pick a few that fit this whole idea of lullabies and relaxing. The song 'Dreaming on the Starlight Train' has the sound of a train approaching, which I find very relaxing." The idea from a rail trip he once took from Cologne to Moscow. "I wanted to create an atmosphere where if you dozed off you might even think you're traveling," he says. "A whisper of a train might suggest that you're on a journey."
New Age Artist of the Year
Solo Para Ti, the 1992 Epic label debut by Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra, featured Carlos Santana on two tracks, including the Santana classic "Samba Pa Ti." The album not only went to the top of the New Age chart, it made the Billboard Top 100 Pop albums, gained Liebert a second year of acclamation as Billboard's New Age Artist of the Year and was certified gold in December, 1995.
Since 1990, Ottmar Liebert has released 25 albums. Nouveau Flamenco, featuring Barcelona Nights, sold double-platinum in the USA, Australia and New Zealand and has become the biggest-selling instrumental guitar album of all time.
on the road
"I spent 3 weeks of hitch-hiking around Japan, then a couple of months in Taiwan (studied Tai-Chi in Taipei twice a day for a month), a month in Hongkong, a month in Thailand and Ku Phuket (in those days a hut on the beach was $1.50/night), two months in Nepal, and finally 3 months in India. The whole year cost me something like $4,000."
Spain: poem by the invisible author
the cocks crow at
impressions are like
OL impressed by
"Earth, Wind & Fire (first concert), Santana (first concert, first vinyl LP, met in 1993 (Solo Para Ti album) and again in 1995 (Tibet benefit) and 1996 (tour), Miles Davis (fell in love with his trumpet sound and wanted to play guitar with that kind of breath, opened for Miles in Seattle in 1990), Paco De Lucia (first impression was Mediterranean Sundance which a school friend showed me. My reaction: 'I don't like Al DiMeola's playing but WHO is the other guy?!')"
|§| By 1993 Nouveau Flamenco went Gold; by 1996 it went Platinum. Two subsequent Higher Octave releases - Poets & Angels (1990) and the Grammy-nominated Borrasca (1991) - went to #1 on the Billboard New Age charts.
"I don't think of my music as 'New Age' per se," says OL. "The term can be irritating, but if people want to put me there, well o.k."
Opportunity was a blacktop highway and a fast driver. With his brother Stefan behind the wheel, Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra hit the road, reached thousands of new fans in 1992 as the opening act on Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable" US tour and through a pair of performances on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show."
In 1993 a new Epic album, The Hours between Night & Day consolidated OL's position within the vanguard of "World" (cross-cultural) music. He now went acousto-electric in what he described as "real acoustic and electric musicianship with some programmed computer-aided music design."
In February, 1995, Epic released Euphoria, a remix collection inspired by Luna Negra's 1993-94 tours of Europe and South America. OL delegated "complete freedom to add and subtract and reconstruct our songs" to such master mixers as Steve Hillage, Aki Nawaz, and DJ SLip (of Compton's Most Wanted fame). Responding to years of fans' requests, Liebert released ¡Viva! - the first concert album of his career - in June, 1995. ¡Viva! was, as Ottmar promised, "a true live album - no edits, no overdubs, no fixes" - and it captured all the energy and emotion of a classic Luna Negra performance.
So on he rolls... Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, Europe... as the analogue world unwinds and the Digital Age arrives. He parks his Sony 2 inch analogue reeler in the corner of his studio, gets himself a Mac and Pro Tools Software. "I know some of those old rockers still like analogue," he says. "But I'd never go back."
But wasn't Nouveau Flamenco's magic sound due to the diffused resolution of analogue?
"Maybe it was," he says. "But... I'd never go back."
Isn't digital synonymous with robot vibrato and robot rhythm?
"I suspect that grids and loops might be the sort of thing people might not enjoy as much 20 years hence. There are some radio stations that play exclusively grid and loop music and you can nod your head to same beat for hours like a clock. There are ways to beat that. I'm looking at a hybrid approach.
"PS: Full Disclosure. The album La Semana, which I still consider to be one of my finest moments, is a grid and loop recording."
electroacoustic sound design
For the recording of Opium, Ottmar explains, "I'm using my flamenco guitar, which was made by Eric Sahlin of Spokane, Washington, and a midi-flamenco guitar made by Keith Vizcarra of Santa Fe. "I played two electric guitars, one of which is a Roland Stratocaster - a Japanese copy of the Fender Stratocaster which came with a Roland guitar synthesizer. I've since ripped the synth out and put in new pick ups, a new whammy bar - it's acompletely different guitar now. The other is a Gibson ES-335 (semi-hollow body) but in a pearl-white finish. I played the electric guitars through either a Mesa Boogie or Groove Tubes amp. And on some tracks I'm playing a fretless lute - although it sounds more like a Turkish oud since we took the frets off."
Nouveau Flamenco 2 x Platinum - USA Disco de multi-Platino (10 x Platinum) - USA/Latin Platinum - Australia Platinum - New Zealand Gold - Canada Gold - Mexico Borrasca Gold - USA Nominated for a Grammy Solo Para Ti Gold - USA Disco de multi-Platino (2 x Platinum) - USA/Latin Gold - Canada The Hours Between Night + Day Gold - USA Disco de multi-Platino (2 x Platinum) - USA/Latin Gold - Canada Gold - New Zealand Nominated for a Grammy Euphoria Disco de Oro (Gold Disc) - USA/Latin ¡Viva! Disco de Platino (Platinum Disc) - USA/Latin Opium Disco de Platino (Platinum Disc) - USA/Latin Nominated for a Grammy Leaning into the Night Disco de Oro (Gold Disc) - USA/Latin Innamorare - Summer Flamenco Disco de Oro (Gold Disc) - USA/Latin
OL mp3 tracks at CC
travelling raindrops [2:58]
La Semana 2004
"After my son was born I was withdrawn and did not want to deal with an engineer or with musicians - except for Jon of course, but he is family - and so I did the entire album by myself, except for the bass performances. All of the percussion tracks you hear were recycled and looped from earlier performances. It was an incredible experience making that album, from the depth of lost to the joy of finding."
|§| What exactly is the Ottmar Liebert style? In a bad moment, maestro Paco de Lucia supposedly said, ""There are a thousand flamenco players in Spain who are better than him." Despite de Lucia's late age conversion to jazz improv and flamenco fusion, his remark billboards the classicist resentment of nuevo flamenco as an international commodity. In Jason Webster's novel "Duende" Lola the dancer dismisses the Cordoba guitarist Vicente Amigo as "jazz" in a fit of xenophobic snobbery, which pretty well mirrors the attitude of those who fear globalization is the dilution of a tradition.
Culture Court says "OL is always a traveller, someone who is bisecting the constellation flamenco. He was born and raised in Cologne, Germany, and you can hear the phrasing of Northern Europe in his compositions, just as you can hear the Med-Mexican mariachi. It's the ability to absorb landscapes, speak in tongues, speak as poetry. Definitions of purity are meaningless, best left in the wine cellar."
The idea of "silence" is the patina behind everything he writes, especially of recent. While it's an attempt to discriminate between urban noise and nature, and has the usual characteristics of romanticism (the poet's instinctive need to revolt and transcend), it is also symptomatic of post-modern minimalism. Samuel Beckett's last play was simply an unseen actor's cough and an unseen stage-hand's refuse bin... 35 seconds. The transformation of the artist is towards invisibility & silence.
(see/hear OL talking about noise & silence on the 1996 Sony DVD Wide-Eyed + Dreaming)
Miles Davis is an influence. The middle period Miles has the ghost or whisper line melody... the empty space above the meter where the melody abstracts, allows the listener to fill it all in, interact, become part of the conversation. Telepathy and transformation. Imagination, migration & the existential node.
"Miles Davis... fell in love with his trumpet sound and wanted to play guitar with that kind of breath," says OL. "You can imagine how nervous I felt when we opened for Miles in Seattle in 1990."
And then, of course, there is Santana:
"In 1996 we toured with Santana for several months. After our set, we would join Santana for a few songs. We would start with a few lines from the Concerto de Aranhuez, followed by "El Mar" (from George Benson's "White Rabbit" album) and Samba Pa Ti. It was very exciting to walk onto the stage and perform with my first guitar hero -- I saw Earth, Wind & Fire open for Santana in Cologne in 1974."
One of OL's best hybrid compositions (and most popular) is "Snakecharmer", which can be found on his CD, rumba collection: 1992--1997 and on the DVD Wide-Eyed + Dreaming. This live version of "Snakecharmer" starts with a prelude played on the electric guitar, a deep canyon sound filled with metaphoric spirits, petroglyphs, water falling... it's by his minimalism that beauty is created. Notes hang, chords ghost... and you imagine the rest.
While he sticks to his classical/flamenco roots, OL experiments with various forms, genres. t-one (1996) draws on the documentary sound tradition of musique concrete and the eastern meditation vibe of progressive ambient music. Digital recording and the remix track has led him into techno hybrid composition, notably with Nouveaumatic in 2003 [the remix of In The Arms of Love was Culture Court's biggest promo feature ever, had to be withdrawn when it hit 8,000 downloads in six days].
In the tradition of his mixed-media collaborations, his instrumental "Cocteau" (La Semana 2004) was used by the Canadian writer Lawrence Russell as a theme for the story Obo Cocteau. A frequent commentator on the work of Ottmar Liebert, LR wrote on Luna Negra's 2003 outdoor concert in a vineyard at Veneta, Oregon, in Highway 101: Ottmar Liebert Live At The Secret House.
2003. He considers buying an inn in Tuscany, getting out of the music business for a while or maybe forever. The recording industry is in disarray, unable to come to terms with Internet downloading or treat its artists as artists, not commodities. He continues his summer tours, records in his own studio, releases CDs through his own label, Spiral Subwave Records International. In 2006 word comes of the demise of his old label Higher Octave -- who released Nouveau Flamenco -- defeated by the new technology and the rise of the mp3 format.
He decides to release an album of solo flamenco guitar, recorded at the highest digital resolution of 96 mghz. He calls it, simply, "One Guitar" and it's all about player mysticism, the artist as impressionist... landscapes as big vistas between here and Zen.
2006. It's a time for introspection, some high altitude. Like Larry Darrell in Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, he journeys East, goes to Tibet.
Lawrence Russell says
'His fabulous technical ability combines with an uncanny compositional intuition to create strong, original material. His touch is light, melodic, and fits the "easy listening" ambience of the New Age genre. You feel nostalgic when you listen to his first instrumental "hit", "Santa Fe", think immediately of the Old West, movie theme music, waggon wheels echoing in the arroyos, riders in the sage, ghost gunfighters and banditos. This cross-border vibe permeates much of his music....'
that's in stereo
"Anyway, my story is about the in-ear monitors we've used since 1994. Not having large monitor-wedges on stage means less volume, and that means less sound from monitors getting back into the microphone and degrading the guitar sound or creating feedback.
"Carlos said to me using in-ear monitors is like having phone-sex instead of the real deal. A few soundchecks later Carlos was standing next to our monitor engineer while we were playing. The engineers gave Santana his headphones and told him this was what I was listening to. Carlos listened and said, impressed, "that's in stereo"!
Santa Barbara 2nd day good bike ride into the hills with Stefan in the morning nice Illy Cafe espresso at the Montecito Coffee Company then Stefan talks me into buying a bicycle helmet i tell him that i never wore a helmet when i was a bicycle messenger in Boston from 1983 until 1986, but he makes me get one anyway again we dont get a soundcheck at the County Bowl in Santa Barbara, but we get to join the Santana band and run through a tune Carlos wants us to join him on: El Mar, which is on George Bensons wonderful CTI album White Rabbit hard-to-find, but still in print on Epic records and worth ordering after we perform El Mar, Carlos starts up Samba Pa Ti, which i havent played in years and i am onstage with one of the guitarists that inspired me to choose this instrument years and years ago amazing
103 decibels & climbing
from the concord pavillion: what a difference a soundcheck makes!! after getting our first soundcheck since last friday in Reno, i walk around with a big smile cause i can finally hear myself we play louder than ever and peak at 103 decibel, but Santanas band breaks new records and peaks at 120 decibel at the mixing console in the back of the venue the band was creating about 110 decibel of volume on stage alone i think 120 decibel is how loud a jet is at take-off!!! when i go up to play the duets w Carlos, i wear my in-ear monitors and have only my guitar in them and yet the roar of his band on stage is deafening its the total rock & roll experience!!! we play 3 songs with the Santana band and when Carlos starts up Samba Pa Ti, his home-crowd goes nuts its pretty amazing to perform that song with him: i remember hearing Santana in concert in Cologne, Germany in 1974, and i remember receiving the 3 LP Santana album that was recorded live in Japan for Christmas that year and learning to play Samba Pa Ti from the record.
impression, memory, dream
El Paso: i wake up with the bus standing still, parked in front of the UTEP Center in El Paso i make myself an espresso with the machine and the Illy beans i picked up at home yesterday hm and another today is the 3rd aniversary of the death of Miles Davis it is still unbelievable to me that we opened a show for him and his band at the Paramount Theater in Seattle in the Spring of 1990 we were so nervous somewhere at home i have the ad from the Seattle newspaper that reads: Miles Davis - with special guest Ottmar Liebert when we leave for Dallas at 10pm, we play Sketches of Spain on the bus in honour of Miles.
|§| Spring, 2007. Ottmar Liebert's waiting for a messenger. He doesn't know who it will be or how it will be. It could be a painting in a local gallery or a courier on a mountain bike... or maybe a stranger in the lobby of a mysterious building. This person will look like Al, his old A & R man at Epic Records, even if this person is a painting on the wall or someone approaching in the dusk.
"I've just finished a Luna Negra CD," he says. "It's a wrap."
And what will it be called?
"That's under consideration," he says. "I can say it has a track called Silence, which is running 12 minutes."
And how can he go beyond "Silence"?
"A new band," he says. "Jon Gagan, Barrett Martin & myself. Al told me about Barrett as he handled both of us in the nineties... although it was a long time before we connected. He lives in Santa Fe now so we're talking, moving ideas."
What will they play?
"I'm not sure... hey, I'm just the guitar player in this one. I'm waiting. It will come to me somehow... and I'll know."
"I wrote the piece during a sesshin in May of 2005. The title was given by Genpo Roshi, my zen teacher. Last August I performed for an hour solo, unamplified in the zendo (meditation hall) of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe. The next morning I was talking with Genpo Roshi when a couple of people walked by, towards the zendo. One of them thanked me for the music and said that she really enjoyed one particular song. The strangest thing, she said, was that it was the first piece of music she had ever heard that felt like silence - it somehow transcended sound. I had not announced any of the titles, which made her remark very interesting."