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Light and upbeat Latin tune, featuring Spanish guitars with percussion and electric bass. Makes you think of a nice, relaxed evening at a Caribbean beach.
The adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) by Joaquín Rodrigo must be one of the most archetypical guitar concerts there are. If you play the first three guitar notes of the adagio, many people will know they have heard it somewhere, if perhaps not quite sure where. Or at least recognize it as a kind of template for Spanish guitar music.
It’s only three notes, two of which are the same ones by the way, but played with the right timing it immediately sounds very Spanish. Rhythm and timing often define musical styles more so than melody and harmony anyway.
Underneath you’ll find two performances of it. It has been played by scores of classical guitar players, and John Williams is one of the very best of them:
However, this classical Spanish guitar music is so heavily based in flamenco that to me it actually sounds better when played by a real flamenco player.
Like Paco de Lucia.
Mind you, Paco de Lucia didn’t read notes, so he must have figured it out and memorized it by ear:
Paco de Lucia’s tone is sharper, more aggressive. Definitely not your music college polished tone (which in itself has its charms, mind you). And that is the quintessential Spanish guitar tone, I feel. No disrespect meant to John Williams, of course. The man has a musical and technical flexibility matched by only very few, if anyone. But with this particular piece, I prefer the rawness of flamenco to classical refinement.
Still, John Williams sounds brilliant as well, and he, more than many others, does sound and appears like someone who really plays the music, as opposed to be reproducing stuff from music scores.
The first recordings of Andres Segovia I was confronted with were made when he already was in his late seventies. It’s only when you hear him performing at a much younger age (still 56, mind you) that you understand how stunning he must have been in his time, playing all this music on classic guitar that no one ever before played on it:
Today it became known that the famous flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia suddenly died at the age of only 66 years, probably from a heart attack.
I am not an expert on flamenco, but it is a style that has always appealed to me very much, and one of the first flamenco guitarists I ever heard was Paco de Lucia. I didn’t know then that he was also one of the very best flamenco players that ever existed at all.
When I got my fifth degree at music school at my seventeenth (my school used a degrees system that officially ranged from 1 to 6, only they just went to 5 at my particular school) my parents had asked my older brother to go look for a record with some very special guitar playing on it, that I would get for getting this degree.
My brother, not as much into playing guitar as I but always much more the curious listener and researcher for new music, found that famous record ‘Friday Night at San Francisco ’ featuring Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia.
He gave it to me with the words “Just so you don’t go imagining that you’re already really good”. He has always known me very well.
Well, it WAS an eye opener. I never had imagined that guitar playing like this existed in the first place so it set a new – ahem – target.
I mostly preferred the playing of Al Dimeola and Paco de Lucia on that record. Al DiMeola had the clearest tone, but in Paco de Lucia’s playing there was that special Spanish intensity and the specific flamenco melodies and dissonant harmonies that appealed to me.
In hindsight those concerts of course were kind of a tournament in fast guitar playing and not everything in it was musically all that appealing, but to be confronted with something like that at the age of seventeen is hugely impressive.
But hearing Paco de Lucia playing real flamenco is even more impressive. The man could keep up your attention in a ten minute solo piece like this:
Now that’s an immense achievement for any musician.
When listening to Paco de Lucia, you know that he’s someone who captured the very essence of an instrument, that he’s doing what should be done with the instrument. These are the sounds supposed to be coming from it. It all sounds so natural and easy. Until you try it for yourself. Then you discover how much dedication and hours must have gone into this kind of control and creativity. Of course he must have had a great talent, but part of that talent ís the kind of dedication you can put into things as well.
Apart from the great loss this must be for his famlily and friends, there were definitely also many years of musical brilliance that were lost here.
An impressive concert from a longer time ago:
Sometimes you pick up a guitar and right after the first few notes you go “Yes!”. This Taylor 114 was one of those guitars when in 2012 I went to Elderly Instruments in Lansing (a true heaven for guitarists, by the way; I rarely saw such a big choice of top range instruments and you’re allowed, even invited, to play them all).
I live in the Netherlands but my girlfriend lives in Michigan. 2012 was the third summer I was travelling there, and the fees for excess luggage had been going up so steeply that I figured it would be cheaper in the long run - and safer for my guitars - to just buy one in the US and leave it there instead of taking one on the plane every time.
I wanted to buy a second hand one (most of my guitars I bought second hand), and I discovered that Elderly instruments actually had about five second hand ones available. Within minutes it was clear to me that out of five candidates it was going to be this 114 or a slightly more expensive Taylor 210 series. It was this one that sounded the best though.
The 100-series being the cheapest series of Taylor guitars, it still has your typical chrystal clear Taylor sound, but with warm basses as well, and equally typical perfect playability. It’s got laminate sapele back and sides and a solid sitka spruce top.
This Em11 (named after a chord that I like) is a so-called kit guitar from Stewart-MacDonald. I had been wanting to build a guitar myself for some time, but especially with building acoustic guitars there’s a lot that can go wrong. Subscribing for a course and building one from scratch was an option, but then I hit upon this thing called kit guitars, where the parts that require expensive machinery to manufacture come more or less prefab, which you only have to finish or make to size. That seemed to be a more flexible way of working to me, so I opted for that kit guitar.
I chose a Stewart-MacDonald kit, because their kits come with an extensive manual and a demo DVD, which is something you really need with your first build. They had only two models to pick from, a Dreadnought model based on the Martin HD-28 or a Martin OM model. I picked the dreadnought because that was a model I didn’t have yet (I opted for the rosewood version).
It has been a great experience to build it, and if I ever have time for it again I’ll build another one. I was very pleasantly surprised by its great, deep sound as well, the materials for this kit are really top notch. The hardest and most critical part is to get the neck set up right (which is why I picked the bolted neck rather than the dovetail construction). Second hardest thing is to get it finished nicely, in which I didn’t succeed entirely. That’s typically a matter of experience.
The kit and additional materials cost some 450 euros and I spent about 550 euros on tools. So in total this cost me some 1000 euros, but it definitely sounds as good as many guitars of such a price, and I also have played more expensive ones that weren’t as good (also cheaper ones that WERE as good; there’s quite a wide variety in price-quality ratios with acoustic guitars). It definitely sounds a LOT better than my 550 Euro Crafter GAE-30, but without its pickup system that guitar would cost less than 500 euros, to be fair.
For all you people who think I am just a guitar maniac: I was listening to this song just now, by La India:
An artist I got introduced to by my friend Ramsy from the Dutch Antillies. I only got the album with this song on it (and on tape; damn, I’m going to order the album NOW!), but boy do I love salsa music.
I can’t even begin to understand were it comes from, but from very early on I’ve liked Spanish and/or Latin music. In summer I also look more mediterranean than your average pale/bright-red Dutch person, so perhaps it’s genetic. Anyway, as I said my friend Ramsy later introduced me to salsa, and I got to see his friend Leonard Reymound’s bands playing, a really great singer and percussionist. I got to understand the power and dynamics of horns, something I hadn’t liked at all before, being a symphonic rock fan.
But also, and more importantly, I got to understand that rhythm isn’t the strong point of main stream western music. We adopted the strong emphasis on rhythm through blues and jazz during the 1940’s and 1950’s, but in popular music it’s still very simple compared to what is done in salsa, which must be a mixture of African and Spanish rhythms, the Spanish also being influenced by the Moors from North Africa. Perhaps they also were influenced by flamenco, the music of the Spanish Gypsies. Who originally came from India, which is indeed another part of the world where they came up with some really intricate rhythmic patterns. Europe had strong rhythms as well in its folk music – Bulgarian folk music will have strange rhythms like 11/8 time – but somehow it’s mostly classical music that’s become the main European heritage (although at least part of British/Irish folk music has been preserved in bluegrass music, I think).
Salsa means sauce, and that’s indeed what it is. We Westerners are mostly masters of melody and harmony, that’s what we got down in Europe. That got mixed in with jazz and blues harmonies in the US, rooted in Africa as well, mind you, but anyway: combine jazz with the rhythmic inventions of Spain, Africa and India and you get amazing music, which is what salsa is.
There are brilliant people everywhere; just extract as many ideas from everywhere and you’ll come up with something great.