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between here & zen
|| In his famous novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" the Colombian writer Gabriel Marquez has a scene where a Conquistador is recovered from the bed of a river, a husk within a heavy suit of armor. This piece of folk archaeology is part of the imagery that drives the story as a cultural echo. There are similar echoes in Ottmar Liebert's new CD of solo acoustic guitar, that is, the ghosts of Spanish flamenco within the dreamscapes of the New World. One Guitar: 13 tracks of contemplation, meditation, exhalation, levitation... and exquisite solitude.
Ottmar Liebert plays his guitar just about every day. Some might call it practice, keeping his chops fresh for the gigs with his band Luna Negra. But the fact is all players sit or stand in private rooms or spaces and play alone. They construct temples of sound, be it in the basement, the patio, the street or a wooded grove or anywhere they open the box. It's a mystical act, even if an accidental listener deems it to be an atonal mistake. There's nothing atonal about One G (except in the flamenco sense, the slack string stuttering, the off-pitching between E and F, la mordida & the wounding) but it's all about player mysticism, the artist as impressionist. So the landscapes here are impressive, big vistas between here and Zen.
OL's border country imagery is well established in his earlier compositions, but in this collection you now hear him in the lst declension. Sure, some will say "Sabicus" or "Pablo X" or some other flamenco, confusing the scale with the culture. 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. You want something other than smoke or Goth metal in your room? Nature beyond industrial noise? Ethno-simplicity? Try One G.
the invisible world
|| The album certainly has some tortured romance in its flamenco lyricism, at times as moody as a scene in a painting by Goya, or a movie by Almodovar. And it's not all heavy; in fact it's often downright playful. "The Red Desert Sky " (8) has that "my heart has been broken, baby... we came here for a vacation & you step out with this guy who says he's a bullfighter" vibe. It's that Latin zeitgeist that's implicit in any guitar tuned E to E, the ghost within the instrument. It's the first declension -- and some would say the last -- for any player. There's something pure about the solo instrument, its isolation in space, its evocation of the invisible world. Love and hate, and somewhere within all this, the spiritual declamation. Not that this vibraphonic signalling is unique to the guitar... it is a musician's thing, for how many times have you seen a masked brute sit down at the piano and stun you with his unexpected sensitivity?
As recitals go, the evocation of the muse is clear from the first track "Not one, not two (JHR)". You can see the stage with its distant, hazy landscape, a plain painted on the cyclorama... you can see the mime, face whitened, strike the pose, then interpret the theme: I am a butterfly. In this ballet of the mind, the butterfly dances between flowers. Melody is detached from strict rhythm, the cascade an imitation of nature. The pallet of moods is the face of the mime: I am a butterfly, I emerge from one body, earthbound, I become another, take flight. Beautiful. You can see it all from the veranda of your mind.
As the tracks proceed, the landscape becomes more abstract, defined, it seems, as a sense of inner light, a blank canvas, a white space, the 3rd eye groove of the artist. It's not entirely a retro thing either... candle light & classicism, snuff & sangre del torro. Consider the post-modernism implicit in "Looking West Until the Train Disappears (Ode to MagLev)" (Track 11). While the gallery could be Madrid or Santa Fe, the sunset anywhere, this E minor action painting is all about rhythm, cirrus nimbus strata lines, drifting contrails, wind shear and the Tokyo-Santa Fe Express as a ghost train in the sky rendered in Goya red. As a compulsive photographer, OL is always looking for shapes in the sky, in the earth. Vapor & hallucinations, design & dreams.
So the big landscape is ever present as these audio tracks pass into one another like folding columns of light on a vast mesa... the tumble weed stirs, rolls... the hawk drifts in lazy eights... columnar clouds appear like the pillars of a mythological city... the blue vault of the sky and the Aztec sun, too dangerous to behold... and so on. The poet speaks: I touch the earth/ I touch my tongue/ I read the sky/ and I carry the idol through the streets/ it will rain.
Yet in the foreground there are characters, chimeras of forgotten melodies. Consider Track 2, "Beginnings", which has a strong melodic passage countered with blues picado, or what you could compare to "the blues". The melody is like a lost memory, leaves you on the edge of deja vu. And you wonder, what could it be, this memory, this sense of recovering, this sense of measurement by light & shadow? Probably you imagine your own drama, a telenovela of the soul. This isn't a New Age soft drink, designed for mood and paranoia.
pure and word-less
OL's compositions always have poetic titles... sentence fragments, pointillisms. In One G he tries something different. "These titles have a funny story," he says. "At first I wanted the music to remain pure and word-less and therefore I gave each piece a title that was simply the exact time and date of the recording. Then I decided to let a few people come up with titles (the ones that have initials in brackets) - and at last I realized (silly me) that everyone views the music through their own blinders and titles accordingly. I then assumed the responsibility of finding titles and came up with the other titles." Make up your own, folks. Why not -- I did: Mistral, Point No Point, Measured by Light, and so on.
Of the recent/current pantheon from the old planet, who does OL sound like here? Sabicus? No. Pablos X & Y? No. Riqueni... Tomatito... maybe Tomatito. Same sort of restrained lyricism, with less of the psycho gypsy scaling, whipping the burro or the pony. This isn't hard flamenco, and some will say it isn't flamenco at all. No clapping (palmas), no choked wails (cante), no stamping (baile), no posturing and attitude. You won't even hear any nail-shredding rasqueo, although occasionally the chords rattle.
in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king
In the old days, a painter would walk through the countryside, set up his easel, start painting. Sometimes he would just walk, then come back to his studio, and, using memory, engage the impression. Then of course there are some who don't even do that, like Picasso, who just use models, objects, construct the mise en scene. Deconstruction follows, the impression becomes abstraction. The point being...? The music in One G uses conventional perspectives, onomatopoeia and the like, yet occasionally modernisms such as abstraction and the suspended ending occur. In total, it's a nice piece of work. Goya? Picasso? Maybe Almodovar... take your pick. As the H.G. Wells story says, "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."
The recording is very good. No digital compression, no magic reverb, no tricks... just the stick, the box, the natural ambience of a guitar in a chamber of unknown dimensions, measured by light.
© LR '06
| One Guitar Tracks |
01. Not one, not two (JHR)
mp3 downloads at the SSRI Listening Lounge »»
produced by Ottmar Liebert | all compositions by Ottmar Liebert Copyright luna negra music (BMI) admin. by Holland Walk Muse
Cc Audio | Features | Culture Court
Culture Court | © Lawrence Russell | 2006