Ottmar Liebert: Innamorare - Summer Flamenco
Epic EK 69673
It is fitting that Ottmar Liebert's new album Innamorare: Summer Flamenco has been given two titles. In many ways, it sounds like two albums: one half, the commercial, over-produced music that appeals to the pop buying public, the other, a more organic style of folk music. Yet, the closest label that fits Liebert is that of Flamenco guitarist, a description that may be an over simplification as Liebert's playing mirrors classical, jazz, pop, funk, Afro-Cuban, and a myriad of other influences.
A truly international man, Liebert was born in Cologne to a Chinese-German father and a Hungarian mother. After mastering the guitar at an early age, he began to travel the world, and eventually settled in the United States, first in Boston, then Santa Fe. Since his 1988 debut album, Nouveau Flamenco, his albums have sold millions of copies. As such, Ottmar Liebert and his band, Luna Negra, have risen to become one of the pinnacles of the World Music scene.
The first tracks of Innamorare tell tales of the recording studio. There is a lack of connection in these tracks, and the ensemble sound is often diffuse. However, Liebert's own playing is wonderful and he has an ability to create simple melodies that captivate the ear. In fact, none of the players should be faulted for their performances. Nevertheless, while listening to the first track, Verano de Alegria, I imagined a group of musicians with headphones, sound baffles, microphones and half-finished coffees, rather than the summer scene that was intended. Interestingly, Liebert elected to self-produce the album, a process that often lacks the separation of artist and listener that is required to create the best-recorded product. The recording is too clean, too perfect for what is essentially folk music. This lack of grit takes away from the music's credibility.
Liebert's writing can be very effective. I was able to recall many of the melodies after just one listening. The grooves set up by the rhythm section are especially tasty, with every percussion sound under the sun, and some wonderful fretless bass by Jon Gagan. The horn arrangements are a nice touch, especially the unison section in 2 The Night. As the album progressed, the production problems were placed squarely in the back seat. Check out Ode 2 Love for its unique harmonies and floating rhythm. There is looseness to the groove as though the band have finally relaxed.
There is a stigma in the music world about keeping to one musical culture, that mixing styles degrades the history or suggests ignorance on the part of the musicians. This theory does not stand up against a track like Desert Elysium. Liebert and Luna Negra blend African, Indian, American and European instruments and styles to create a beautiful sonic landscape.
The album ends with a guitar duet, with Liebert conversing musically with himself. It is the only place on the CD where he is free of the constraints of the studio and arrangements. If you want to hear what Liebert sounds like, go straight to this track. Before the silence, there are a few seconds of scratching noises to emulate the sound of an old LP. A neat idea, except that the effect is lost when an excuse is printed in the liner notes, almost as if to say "yeah, we know that's there, it isn't a mistake." The producers should not have bothered. On an album so obviously over-produced, I assumed every sound was intentional.
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