Eduardo Niebla

The Philharmonic Music Room 29/1/16

The Philharmonic Music Room seems at first glance a trifle austere, a square box of a room with an additional rectangle of bar space into which a capacity crowd untidily spills. The walls are clad in sound-board regularity and the hard geometry of the space is tonight pitched against the fluid, molten sound of Flamenco jazz guitarist EDUARDO NIEBLA.

Born in Morocco, raised and tutored in Catalonia and now an honorary Yorkshireman, resident in his adopted home of Bedale, Niebla has travelled the globe with a fertile, inquisitive mind in search of musical inspiration. From electro-trance exhibitionists Juno Reactor via Indian, Arabic, gypsy, Spanish and Flamenco stylists to popsters George Michael and Craig David, his list of musical collaborators makes David Bowie seem a tad insular. He often performs live with accompanying tabla, violin and cello but tonight, I realise with a touch of disappointment, he is accompanied only by a single guitarist. I say only, but Matthew Robinson’s playing soon lays bare the ignorance of my initial reaction.

The first number, India, sees the unassuming Niebla perform a solo introduction of intricate fingering and razor-sharp chords before Robinson adds depth and weight to a piece that never falls into sitar satire.

It becomes apparent that the Philharmonic Music Room is not pitched against Niebla but is designed for one thing and one thing only – the sound. The acoustics are superb and once Niebla and Robinson begin to weave their sonic tapestry any interior design quibbles are quickly forgotten.

Mirror Of Life builds slowly and gently, before a stunningly beautiful fadeout. You can hear a pin drop before the applause kicks in. It is tempting to try to pigeonhole each piece – this is Indian, this is classical Spanish, etc. – but Niebla defies such obvious categorisation, managing to bring several influences together in a single piece. We are simultaneously aboard an Atlantic steamer bound for the deep South, a caravanserai, the Orient Express, the Silk Road; and bluesy, jazzy inflections are scattered throughout, balanced with African and Oriental tones and percussive effects.

Niebla introduces Calle De La Tina by inviting the audience, in the absence of any floor space, to “dance on the stage”. Perhaps fortunately, no one takes him up on the offer. Robinson’s opening sounds hauntingly like the choppy intro to Voodoo Chile before Niebla lays some exquisite lines over the top. His delicate pizzicatos are underscored by the percussive thwang of his right thumb, his left hand flies up and down the fretboard in a mercurial blur. When the two strike a chord together it cuts through the air like a knife.

We are, undoubtedly, in the presence of an absolute master, but at no point in the evening does the playing become a mere technical exercise – there is no exhibitionism, no ‘noodling’.        The pieces are tight, they never ramble, but follow a confident, often beautifully choreographed path, continually displaying the lyricism for which Niebla is famed.

Bluebells Garden begins with a delightful, delicate melody and develops with such beauty that I find myself laughing in amazement and joy. Robinson’s hypnotic rhythms become trance-like and at the finale those who aren’t on their feet cheering are applauding enthusiastically enough to thankfully earn an encore.

I Can’t Wait Any Longer, tense, taut and teasing, is the sound of a lovelorn young hombre pacing the hot, stifling waiting room of an Andalusian train station, the station clock a ticking metronome for his boot heels, as his amore approaches slowly down the line. His pace quickens as he hears the whistle blow before a suitably rousing climax sees them reunited.

We may be walking out into the cold, damp January night, but our hearts are infused with the hot blood of a uniquely Spanish diaspora.

Glyn Akroyd

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