Chano & Colina
Chano Domínguez y Javier Colina

“Jazz is not a ‘what’ but a ‘how’,” once famously declared pianist Bill Evans, and flamenco, a jazz relative by history and feeling if not by family particulars, often suggests that too.
In Chano & Colina, a live recording, pianist Chano Domínguez, and bassist Javier Colina certainly make an elegant case for it.

Born and raised in Cádiz, the heart of Andalusia, Domínguez grew up with cante flamenco but also, he has often recalled, following bands such as Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Soft Machine. Early on he was, in fact, a rocker, playing keyboards. Then he discovered jazz and Evans, Herbie Hancock, and Thelonious Monk.
He “got serious” about the piano in 1981.

Since, Domínguez seems to have been working methodically on integrating the emotions, rules, and strategies of jazz and flamenco, developing an approach that sounds at once familiar and fresh. Over time, his work has become increasingly subtler. Don’t expect bright markers to note where jazz ends and flamenco starts or vice versa — especially in his work with Colina, a fellow Spaniard, old friend, and music partner who also happens to be a superior player and musically bilingual.

Here, the sum of the parts doesn’t quite account for the sound of the whole. Consider “You the Night and the Music,” with its percussive opening, spirited exposition and unexpected accents; the fresh energy of “You Must Believe In Spring,” or the drama in the phrasing in “We Will Meet Again,” suggesting the expressive nuances of a cantaor.
Conversely, the two pieces by the great flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía, “Canción De Amor,” a ballad, and the intense “Ziryab,” receive the kind of probing harmonic and rhythmic treatment reserved in jazz for standards.

Working with just two instruments presents obvious limitations — but also opportunities. On their performance, Domínguez and Colina often suggest two dancers who know each other well, never holding too tight, anticipating each other’s pauses and turns, each now leading, now following.

All that is also part of the “how” that makes jazz and flamenco so special.

“You and the Night and the Music.” Chano Dominguez and Javier Colina at the Auditorio Nacional. Madrid. January 2017


Worth Noting

Pianist Benito González, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet and drummer Gerry Gibbs celebrate  the music of McCoy Tyner on Passion Reverence Transcendence (Whaling City Sound); Serbian fusion guitarist Dusan Jevtovic recorded at his hometown in Kragujevac, Live at Home (MoonJune); drummer and vocalist Fernando García brings jazz harmonies and approach to the folkloric bomba rhythms of his native Puerto Rico on Guasábara Puerto Rico (Zoho); Brazilian drummer and percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca and his trio pay tribute to an excellent pianist and composer with whom Da Fonseca frequently worked in the 1980s on Plays Dom Salvador (Sunnyside); Bach has long been a favorite of jazz artists. A late notice for a worthy project: trombonist, and composer Papo Vazquez’s  J.S Bach. Goldberg Variations: 12 Variations for Jazz Quartet (Picaro).

Once Again, From The Top.

Summer is a great time to retrace our steps and take a second, closer look at something that we might have given up on or discarded a bit too quickly.

Perhaps it’s because before focusing on music I wanted to be a mathematician (and went as far as completing two years of college as a Math major), but I have been intrigued for a long time by books such as Edward Rothstein’s Emblems of Mind. The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics (Times Books), and Douglas R. Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, (Basic Books).

Rothstein, once The New York Times chief music critic, did not just study music but, as he notes, was “training to become a ‘pure’ mathematician,”  so he comes at the subject with an insiders’ understanding of both disciplines and the journalistic training to explain complex concepts in clear, simple ways.

In my case, I eventually came to see music as math in motion – but with an added emotional power and reach that are not concerns for math. And that was that. I never sat to explore, much less explain to myself or others, the connection between music and math. This time, I’ll finish Rothstein’s book.

(After that, I’ll tackle Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach … again. It’s been my white whale on the subject.)


A few weeks ago, while doing research for a piece on Moroccan gnaoua music, I rediscovered Safi, (Buda Musique, 2000) a recording by Congolese pianist, guitarist, and producer Ray Lema and the group Tyour Gnaoua, from Essaouria, Morocco.
Time gives us perspective and at the time I might’ve put this on the shelf a bit too quickly. Safi is an inspired collaboration.

Lema has had a remarkable career. He has not only anchored the bands of key figures in modern Congolese music such as Le Grand Kalle, Tabu Ley Rochereau, and Papa Wemba, but also collaborated across genres with artists as disparate as Stewart Copeland (The Police), German jazz pianist Joachim Kuhn, The Bulgarian Voices, and Brazilian singer-songwriter Chico Cesar. As for gnaoua music, I hear echoes of those grooves, the singing and the sound of the qraqabs, the iron castanets, and the gimbri, the three-string bass/lute, in several Afro-Latin-American rhythms (Brazilian samba, to name an obvious one).

In Safi, Lema, who plays, sings, and produces, punches up the traditional hypnotic gnaoua grooves and tightens the sound of the ensemble, but otherwise, mostly works at the edges, adding accents or discreetly underlining particular passages with his keyboards or electric guitar. Nine of the 11 tracks are traditional. The exceptions are “Mister X,” a reggae-tinged piece by Lema; and “Manandabo” by Abdeslam Alikkane, the group’s gimbri player and singer, which sounds like a salute to samba, including a cavaquinho-sounding guitar arrangement by Lema. Still, the most curious twist appears in the closing track, “Tura.” It’s labeled “Traditional” yet it features Tyour Gnaoua with Lema on piano and the result has an Afro-Cuban lilt that evokes the flavor of the Africando series on the 1990s, in which African and Latin musicians joined to play Afro-Cuban music. In Safi even the missteps are interesting.