WINTER ROSE | Ottmar Liebert | SSRI 2005 |

Santa Fe, New Mexico. Ottmar Liebert is back in town after a month in Italy, checking out the sites, including Dante's tomb in Ravenna. The most famous image associated with the Tuscan poet is the celestial rose, the white flower of the Empyrean, a heavenly vibration of pure white light beyond Time and Space. Could Dante's rose be the "Winter Rose" of OL's new CD? Some tracks certainly have a cosmic feel, a sense of starry space and inner clarity, a REM dream rhythm that's both classical and contempo. But isn't the red poinsettia considered the "Christmas" rose? Yes... and this vibe also fits, as this is a double-character album.

Consider: North meets South, Christmas meets Felice Navidad.

A time to reflect, a time to party. As a collection of classic Christmas refits and original OL compositions, the concept here is brilliant. The kids have gone to bed, you're on the couch dreaming in front of the fire, a glass of wine, a glass of Napoleon B, who knows, but you're dreaming. Track 2 is playing, Little Town of Bethlehem/The City of Tijuana... people you miss, people you love... then there's a gentle shift into electro fiesta time, and you're south of the border, maybe in some dodgy cantina slinging back Aztec Golds as the fireworks explode... and then, gently, you're back in acoustic Bethlehem in the snowfields under the stars. Amazing compositional control here, this double-character style that's the signature of Winter Rose.

The mood is never allowed to collapse into sentiment, although sentiment is used. Tradition sets the ceremony, although the ceremony includes reggae... just as in Track 7, Kora/River of Stars. This is one beautiful number. For those familiar with Ottmar Liebert, you'll recognize his jazz octave ghosting, and the hypnotic flamenco glides. Bassist Jon Gagan is riding shotgun on the old sleigh here, so you bump into reggae time, and then space out on the "river of stars" via JG's big string harmonics and synth squeals.

But surely, as some advance listeners have proclaimed, the best track is Les Roses d'Isphahan, OL's interpretation of Gabriel Faure's [1845-1924] homage to the ancient Persian city known for its superlative rug weaving. While Faure was mining romanticism the same way that Coleridge used the ancient world in the opium fantasy Kubla Khan, he was also evoking the poetic image of the rose, which of course is used as a mandala motif on many Persian rugs.

No question, this is a landmark interpretation. It's really a duet between OL's guitar and JG's bass as lead, with some synth as back-color. Nice big valley echo here and there, and believe it or not, the ghost of jingle bells in one passage. The spacey call & response between the flamenco guitar and the fretless bass, cadenced like roses floating on a river, beauty flowing through... memories flowing... you, flowing. Melancholy? Sure, but a masterpiece of the continuously unfolding melody form.

Thirteen tracks, and you can get them all for 10 bucks, with downloadable CD art. Where, and how, you ask. The new version of the SSRI [Spiral Subwave Records International] Listening Lounge has Winter Rose, and you can listen to the tracks before downloading. You can also find CDs/tracks by other musicians, including Transit, the excellent jazz tropicale album by Jon Gagan, bassist for Luna Negra. There are many gems posted from the SSRI vault, including alternate takes, mixes, live tracks, and recent CDs such La Semana... Various mp3 sample speeds, AIFF files... and no copy protection [DRM].

Into remixing? Techno? You will find many loops at a bit rate to suit your creative needs.

For aficionados of nuevo flamenco, there is another download gem. OL's work-in-progress Tears In The Rain features some stunning solo guitar, recorded in raw, natural ambience. The work is hard-wired as trad flamenco, but programmed as progressive new millennium poetry. The clarity and power of the playing is pure blitzen duende. On a first listen, it's like entering a familiar room, then turning to discover a new window filled with brilliant light.

OL says, "Tears in the Rain is a return to what excited me about the guitar in the first place over three decades ago. Melody, harmony and rhythm can all be expressed well on this primitive box with strings (as opposed to, say a trumpet, which is a melodic instrument - no harmony and no banging rhythms out on a trumpet). So in that sense it's a full circle again and yes, I want to do a lot more of that."

OL's ability to absorb the American south-western border landscape and express it as lyric impressionism is the soul of his famous first release Nouveau Flamenco (1990)... but this is something else again. Perhaps he's responding to the flamenco traditionalists who have been dismissive of flamenco fusion. The technical fluency and compositional innovation here draws a line in the sand. You can either sit in a bodega listening to ghosts or you can step into the light.

Nouveau Flamenco went double platinum, defined the "new flamenco" within the emergent World Music 90's context. Borrasca went gold, and the ambient Opium double platinum in Latin America. Which of his many albums does Ottmar prefer? The last one he records, of course... and although when pressed, he expresses a fondness for "Between The Hours of Night & Day" and "Innamorare" (inspired by a previous visit to the white rose of Tuscany in 1997).

The visual sensibility of Ottmar Liebert's compositions can be traced to his early art school training and an on-going interest in architectural design. "Architecture is like frozen music," said Madame de Stael, the French novelist and inventor of the term romanticism. In his 1996 DVD release wide-eyed + dreaming his lyrical identification with Nature is clearly evident in the clip where he leads the camera to a glassless window, points to the desert vista, says, "On a clear day you can see for a hundred miles."

Ottmar Liebert: Zen discipline and the art of flamenco guitar. He's played with such diverse musicians as Carlos Santana, Castro-Neves, Natalie Cole, others... performed in Europe, Latin America, Australia, Canada... tours annually in the U.S., and will be at a venue somewhere near you soon.

LR 11/05