In a sense what Paco de Lucía once said about his beloved flamenco music came to pass on October 21, 2017, when, between 8:00pm and 9:30pm The Paco de Lucía Project conjured the blithe spirit of probably the greatest flamenco guitarist of them all, Paco de Lucía himself. The concert was appropriately entitled “Flamenco Legends” but there hardly seemed to be room for any more than Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gómez, or – as he is known to his legion of admirers – Paco de Lucía, the man and myth one whose music was being raised to a rarefied realm somewhere quite beyond the hallowed portals of The Royal Conservatory at Koerner Hall.
“I would need two lives to express everything flamenco conveys to me.” – Paco de Lucía
The Paco de Lucía Project is an ensemble made up of the members of the band that accompanied Paco de Lucía on the last ten years of his life. Produced by the celebrated Javier Limón (who was briefly interviewed before the concert) it comprises El Piraña, one of the world’s greatest cajón players, who also brought with him a set of cymbals, hi-hat, a snare and an ornately carved djembe. Then there was Antonio Sánchez, son of Paco de Lucía’s elder brother (also named Antonio Sánchez), an imperious guitarist in his own right, Antonio Serrano, a musician who makes the harmonica sing, Alain Pérez, a great bassist and a wonderful singer, David de Jacoba whose raspy cante flamenco is full of shimmering and diaphanous textures, and Farru, who along with Tomás Moreno “Tomasito” Romero is one of the greatest dramatic baile practitioners in the world.
Together this sextet conjured the spirit of the great Paco de Lucía and held a torch to the blue flame of his anthemic music for one hour and a half. During that time we were treated to some of the most sensuous and alluring music to come out of Spain in decades. In the dimmed lights of the concert hall other famous ghosts roamed as well. One of these was that of the great poet Federico García Lorca, whose Theory and Play Of The Duende seemed to fit the momentous music like a palimpsest echoes of which seemed to rise like a frothing tide every once and a while. In it García Lorca recalled “Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that,” he said.
And here we were swept up by the dark sounds of the duende Paco de Lucía, brought to life again; reborn in this exquisite performance of his music as well as the music of Chick Corea and Alain Pérez, whose gloriously elegiac “El ciego sin bastón (The blind man without a cane)” created one of the great lump-in-the-throat moments of the night. It was also a night where Antonio Serrano lit up the rafters with his monumental harmonica playing. Time and again we held our collective breath marvelling as he made the tiny reeds of his 16-hole chromatic harmonica sing as he seemed not to solo so much as unfold aria after aria as if with wondrous melisma and coloratura that became a great operatic star. All this unfolded as Antonio Sánchez’ fingers made love to the guitar strings and El Piraña’s fingers became veritable paint brushes as he shape-shifted into a percussion colourist, caressing cymbals, drums and cajón.
There were many moments when it seemed as if we’d become an audience of so many hapless toros de lidia entranced by the crimson flash of the toreador’s muleta. And for this we had the young Farru to thank. First he sneaked back on stage three songs into the performance and later he leapt to his feet as we gasped, mesmerising us with his ferocious baile flamenco. Egged on by the cante flamenco of David de Jacoba, the toque from Antonio Sánchez and the jaleo, palmas and pitos by the rest of the ensemble, Farru twisted and turned in a staggering display of El baile flamenco. It was all emotional intensity, proud carriage, and expressive use of the arms and rhythmic stamping of the feet as he seemed to reach into our very bodies to take possession of our very hearts.
It seemed then that Paco de Lucía was reborn in our midst; that the second of his two lives had come to pass. Now we all seemed to feel, Paco de Lucía was truly ours. He belonged to us. The applause was deafening. But then David de Jacoba began to sing. His body curled up as he seemed to disappear into himself and his words receded seemingly beyond all horizons as it became but a series of whispers before his chest opened up dramatically and his voice rose like thunder from the heavens, shattering the ceiling of the concert hall before Antonio Serrano led the ensemble into Chick Corea’s “Spain”. This could easily have been the high point of the entire concert. It was also the moment when we realised that Paco de Lucía and The Paco de Lucía Project belonged first and foremost to Spain. Spain: a country that was torn apart and lay bleeding. And on the night of the 21st of October 2017 it seemed that only the flamenco music of Paco de Lucía could restore all sanity to the world. Ay ¡Vámonos Hermano! Paco de Lucía…