Nouveau Flamenco creator goes wide-screen on The Scent of Light
Ottmar Liebert would be the last person to call his music straight-up flamenco. His rhythmic strumming interspersed with intricate finger picking and Spanish rhythms comes from that tradition, but Liebert’s approach is more languid and less florid than most flamenco players. That’s one reason why he called his debut album, Nouveau Flamenco when he burst on the scene in 1990. It conjures up the southwestern desert landscapes of his home in Sante Fe more than sensual Spanish dancers.
Liebert has taken an introspective and experimental path that flies in the face of music purity and even fans’ expectations. He’s recorded an album of classical music with orchestra, Leaning Into the Night, that featured original tunes and compositions by Ravel, Satie and Puccini. That CD was something of an about face from his 1990’s love affair with electronics. He got the remix treatment on Euphoria, where Steve Hillage, Steve Be Zet and Aki Nawaz brought electronic beats to his music. That was followed up by his psychedelic epic, a double CD called Opium that was a Nouveau Ambient Flamenco journey.
The ambient influence has remained a subtle force in Ottmar Liebert’s music. He uses electronics to gently shape the acoustic space around his guitar and band, Luna Negra. That’s evident on his new CD, The Scent of Light.
The music on The Scent of Light builds slowly, each piece carving out a contemplative space until before you know it, the dynamic has completely changed. A centerpiece of the album is “Silence, No More Longing.” It’s an 11 minute excursion that builds from solo guitar, to multi-tracked guitars adding ambient electronics, bass, percussion, and finally unleashing a quiet electric storm from guitarist Stephen Duros.
In many ways, The Scent of Light is a direct descendent of his 1993 CD, The Hours Between Night and Day. Like that album, many of the songs here are inspired by Liebert’s travels, and he went beyond his standard ensemble line-up for more lush, evocative arrangements full of ambient shadows and environmental sounds.
The Scent of Light is full of subtle, but unexpected touches. There’s the reverse percussion echoes on “Firelight,” the call and response guitars of “The River: Writing in Water,” and the tamboura drone and tabla that comes in through “Candlelight.” The mellotron flutes and reverse guitar bring “Moonlight” to a haunting close as it dissolves dissolving into birds and wind. Liebert takes you from a world of interior ruminations to exterior vistas.
Ottmar Liebert is calling The Scent of Light his best album ever. I’ll need more time for that kind of assessment, but it’s certainly one of his best. It’s our Echoes CD of the Month for August. We’ll be featuring it in a special show on Monday, August 4. Check Echoes.org for for more information. A separate review of The Scent of Light will be live on the site shortly.
John Diliberto, July 30, 2008 (((echoes)))