City Recital Hall, March 10
Always combustible, Diego El Cigala’s voice could suddenly flare up as if it had been doused with petrol. Fine-grained and rather smoky when soft, it sounded like it has been sand-blasted when suddenly unleashed in all its primal force. And of all the stylistic mergers that are the hallmark of contemporary music, few sound as completely natural – almost inevitable – as El Cigala’s fusion of flamenco with Latin American idioms.
These syntheses are capped by the naturalness of the Spaniard’s own singing, which is as unselfconscious and uncontrived as if he were merely chatting to us in some super-expressive language. The rearing emotions bear no trace of histrionics because of the utter conviction that underpins every line, every word. Add his range, accuracy, strength, phrasing, instinct for varying timbre and dynamics and his improvising flair and we are talking about a truly great singer – one who in this performance could keep raising the stakes until his singing was like a heart bleeding directly into your ears.
Just as often there was a sense of a power held in reserve, however, a quality shared by all the members of his sensational band, and just occasionally unleashed. Flamenco guitarist Diego Del Morao could vary his tonal quality between brittle and opulent, and could cram the music with high drama all by himself. Yet despite the constant leaps between restraint and tempestuousness the key quality of this band was its suppleness. Everything flowed, and often the music became the sort of rhythmic game that occurs in Indian classical music or jazz; one being played at the highest level.
Pianist Jaime Calabuch offered especially ravishing solos on Si Te Contara, El Dia Que Me Quieras and the gorgeous Lagrimas Negras. Bassist Yelsy Heredia was the ultimate one for latent power with his minimalist anchoring of the music, infrequent but telling embellishments and two compelling solos. Percussionist Isidro Suarez was the joker in the pack, detonating little textural explosions as he moved around his cajon, congas, bongos, snare drum and cymbals.