In London - Habichuela & Holland: Hands

(Clink on the image to listen on Spotify)

As much as they're hailed in many corners of the world, any recording or event with the words "jazz" and "flamenco" on the same line makes some of us weary (especially in Spain, I'd say.) It's not that we don't like fusions and mixtures of music. But, perhaps because we're surrounded by the "real" thing, it seems that we're less inclined to enjoy certain things that other, foreign, listeners embrace.

One clear example is Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain. Hailed as one of Miles's cornerstone albums, without any scientific rigour I'd say that among the fans who aren't so enthusiastic about it, there's a substantial number of Spaniards. Having heard the Adagio of Concierto de Aranjuez so many times, or tired of watching and hearing saetas sung on mainstream TV newscasts in Easter, the Miles/Evans team's effort sounds... pale.

It's not a matter of authenticity. Not for me, at least. Authenticity is just a snapshot, real or imagined, artificially elevated to the category of sacred perfection, to be respected, pursued, and left untouched. It's more immediate than that, it's the instictive feeling of something sounding right or not.

Flamenco is a very traditional music. Until the 1970s it felt like a fortress with solid, thick walls, dividing it in its "palos" and isolating its beautiful inside from the outside. Looking back on some of the things recorded 30-40 years ago, they sound as if they were created to knock down those walls: they have momentum and weight, but they're coarse and lack sensitivity (or sensibility), like pieces of demolition machinery.

Those pieces may have not aged well, but they were necessary. Today, there are no walls any more. The dust has settled and Flamenco musicians can walk around and wander into the wilderness in measured steps. They don't need the demolition gear.

That's exactly how Hands (EmArcy/Universal), the long-awaited Dave Holland/Pepe Habichuela album, sounds: an open house - Habichuela's - where a jazz bass player has been invited to join a Flamenco session. What makes the whole business work is Habichuela's artistry, Holland's humility and dedication to learn a foreign language, and Josemi Carmona (Habichuela's son, of Ketama fame), who's acted as a bridge between the two.

Despite his bigger name, Holland remains mainly in the background, letting mainly Pepe (and sometimes Josemi) carry the weight of the record. Most casual listeners of Flamenco will probably be more familiar with Paco de Lucía and, for Londoners, the shows at Sadler's Wells. In Hands they'll find a more reflective approach but less broody and intense (there's no dancing or singing), and as laid-back as to hear the musicians cheering and calling each other.

Regarding Holland's role, as soon as he takes to the spotlight it becomes clear how much he's applied himself to the study of this music. His lament in "Camarón", a taranta dedicated to the late cantaor is as poignant as it can get, but where he's really truly impressive is in "Subí la cuesta" ("I walked up the slope"). These are tangos, a palo from Cádiz as joyful and sunny as that part of Andalucía, which - thanks to its syncopated rhythm - happens to be the most swinging of palos. Here, fittingly, Holland plays the hell out of his bass, and nails the rhythm to perfection, proving that Habichuela's praise for the Englishman's grasp of Flamenco is not gratuitious.

It's taken three years of practice, rehearsals and occasional gigs to get this album out, and by the way it sounds, it's been worth the wait. (Talking about how it sounds, the recording and mastering by José Luis Crespo is astonishing, a good reason to go for the CD, not some compressed version of it).

Habichuela and Holland will play at the Barbican on Monday, July 5th (for more info and tickets, click here), as the openers for Chano Domínguez's Flamenco Quartet. Domínguez - famous for his work with Wynton Marsalis - is a jazz pianist from Cádiz, cradle of Flamenco, who not only will provide a wonderful simmetry to Holland's musical journey, but will amaze listeners interested in music. Just music.

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