Spain may have been considered proverbial diadem of the world, between the 7th and 11th centuries, when the Umayyad rulers established the burgeoning Arabic influence across much of Europe, but in Salamanca, home of pianist Daniel García Diego, the Spain ruled by the Romans was already the envy of North African warrior-rulers such as the great Hannibal who swept across the Iberian peninsula. It should therefore come as no surprise that Spain has long since been under the mesmerism of both African and Arabic music, a very old and distinctive flavour of the cultural topography of the region, long before the thunderous sacred and secular rhythms of the Africans echoes on the Atlantic shores of the Americas and the Caribbean.
*Featured photo of Daniel García Trio by Noah Shaye
This suggests that African and Arabic music entranced European cultures much earlier than we care to admit; earlier in Spain and from there to the Americas and the Caribbean. We have known about it and heard and felt in the literature and poetry of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra [who created Don Quixote] and Federico García Lorca [author of Romancero Gitano and Poeta en Nueva York – the latter book included a poignant lament for the African creators of the Blues]. The Afro-Arabic strains of melody, harmony and rhythm waft intoxicatingly in the vapours of Iberian music – particularly in Cordoba and Andalusia.
The great cultural ambassadors – including Paco de Lucía, the dynasty of Romani flamenco performers from Antonia Rodríguez Moreno “La Negra” (1936–2018) to Lole Montoya Rodríguez (1954) and Manuel Molina Jiménez (1948–2015) through to Alba Molina, Alejandro Conde, Chano Domínguez, Alex Conde and – of course – Daniel García. Mr García established his singular musicianship with his very first album, Alba (2015), then with Samsara (2018) and Travesuras (2019), and continues to do so with Vía de la Plata (2021), on which he performs with his stellar trio – contrabassist Reinier Elizarde “El Negrón” and drummer Michael Olivera, and also includes magnificent contributions from trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, inimitable clarinetist Anat Cohen and sparkling guitarist Gerardo Nuñez.
The album begins with the brilliant saeta from Manuel de Falla’s one-act ballet, El Amor Brujo. “Canción del Fuego Fatuo” [“Song of the Will-o’-the-Wisp”] is a haunting melisma announced by El Negron’s masterful ostinato and Mr García’s rippling piano – made more so with Mr Maalouf’s hot-breathed trumpet lines. this cantes a palo seco is, in the words of Anselmo González Climent: “…la síntesis antropológica del andaluz (hondura, plástica, señorío, dolor metafísico) coronada en santidad. La saeta exige un máximo de veracidad pasional, por lo mismo que a nadie le es dado encaramarse en la audacia de sus ayes sin la potencia y la certeza que brinda la posesión heroica del dolor.”*
That song sets the haunting tone for the rest of this magnificent album. The music that follows from the bulerias “Calle Compañía” is, to the soothing fire of the finale of the album, the result of Mr García’s vision. It is one that is poetic, full of shimmering and diaphanous textures that recall Debussy but which also possess a hard-edged precision through the presence of his percussive pianism – as well as the rumbling gravitas of El Negron’s bass and Mr Olivera’s yammering drums and hissing cymbals. Miss Cohen also makes her masterful presence felt on the mournful “La Leyenda del Tiempo”, “Pai Lan” and the album’s pinnacle, “Vía de la Plata”.
There is a wholly natural feeling to the way the climaxes and sudden changes of direction are so perfectly judged in these performances – a measure of how well the pianist and his accompanists know these works. From the bitterly perfumed heaviness of the opening to the rapturous piano arabesques of the last two songs, a richly mysterious mood is beautifully sustained.
Track list – 1: Canción del Fuego Fatuo; 2: Calle Compañía; 3: La Leyenda del Tiempo; 4: Spring of Life; 5: The Silk Road; 6: Pai Lan; 7: Volar; 8: Vía de la Plata; 9: Mar de la Tranquilidad; 10: Calma
Personnel – Daniel García: piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizers; Reinier Elizarde “El Negrón”: contrabass; Michael Olivera: drums. Guests – Ibrahim Maalouf: trumpet [1, 5]; Gerardo Nuñez: guitar [2, 10]; Anat Cohen: clarinet [3, 6, 8]
Released – 2021
Label – ACT Music
Runtime – 49:31
*”… constitutes the anthropological synthesis of the Andalucian (profundity, adaptiveness, aristocracy, metaphysical sadness) crowned with holiness. The saeta demands the maximum of true passion, so that nobody is given to rise above by their bold cries without the potential, the certainty of being offered the heroic possession of suffering.” [Anselmo González Climent].