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Afternoon highlights Berklee Flamenco Ensemble

Saturday afternoon was packed with opportunities to hear great music up really really close and to nibble at performances in a half dozen venues, sipping on smoothies or adult beverages or aromatic caffeine drinks while meandering.  So I enjoyed Huey Lewis and The News, demonstrating even to the purists that jazz pumps through the heart of rockn’roll. Then I checked in with a fine big band behind a powerful straightahead Chika Singer from Japan, belting out standards with infectious energy.

The the peak of the afternoon’s music for me was also the most hopeful view of the future of this ever-evolving artform.

Indeed, jazz seems secure in the hands of the Berklee College of Music whose Berklee Flamenco ensemble soared in a modern fusion approach to that music that is already a blend of influences from the journey of the Romani people from ancient India to Africa, the middle east and the Balkans and eventually throughout the world.  

The instrumentation was fascinating, the percussionist Sergio Martinez played conga, tabla and cajon…already three continents represented, sometimes switching from hand-playing to sticks in dazzling succession.  Ali Amr from Palestine played on an Egyptian version of the zither, a quanun, adding a fascinating and unmistakably Middle Eastern harmonic overtones and microtones, resonating and ornamenting under the whole sound; Enrique “Kalani” Trinidad from Chile performed with a soaring intensity on flute providing a crisp melodic pathway; Noam Wiesenberg on bass kept it all grounded and Ariadna Castellanos Rivas played a lyrical and inventive piano. Together their sound had the duende of flamenco, with its abstracted passages, complex rhythms and passionate intensity.  The qanun and flute player also performed palmas to others’ solos. The thrilling weave of instrumentation and the sheer talent of the young performers brought the audience to its feet throughout.

As jazz, the interplay of artists, the daring rhythmic explorations and the challenging melodic structures made it one of the most thrilling  performances of the day.