Alkimia (Azulah AZFO 001, 2006)
Alkimia is a finely honed collection of compositions. Featuring the writing talents of Franc O’Shea, it reveals a plethora of world percussion instruments including cajones, tinajas (Spanish clay pots), talking drums and tablas, set in the mystical world of Arabic scales and Moorish melodies. Being an almost fully acoustic album, O’Shea sets out to show that the fretless bass is not merely an electric instrument but a fully expressive amplified acoustic instrument that blends seamlessly with Spanish guitar, flute and violin. Alkimia is a place where Flamenco meets hypnotic African rhythms and haunting harmonies with a melancholic wisp of Irish Folk.
After the critical acclaim received for his first album, Franc O’Shea began to search beyond the confines of electric Jazz instrumentation for his music. His eclectic approach to composition had already begun to bear fruit on his 1999 ‘Esprit’ album with tunes such as the African tinged ‘Bé for Baka’, but the coming years saw both a new musical and spiritual journey open before him. He could feel the call of the drums that he grew up with in Swaziland pulling him south.
Following a period of intensive study of Flamenco forms, O’Shea decided to pack his bags and make the move to Andalucía in Spain, the birthplace of Flamenco. Here he became steeped in a culture full of musical treasures with Granada’s pungent mix of Arabic and Moorish melodies. Being of Irish, Spanish and African descent, O’Shea felt at home in this atmosphere where people and music come first and business later. He spent many a night jamming with the gypsy’s in the caves of the Sacromonte (Granada) experiencing first hand the ‘duende’ of the Flamencos.
As O’Shea became established in Spain’s burgeoning Flamenco/Fusion scene, he got to know members of the legendary guitarist Paco de Lucía’s group. This included top musicians Jorge Pardo (Spain) and Rubem Dantas (Brazil) who are renowned on the world stage in their own right through their work with the likes of Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Al Di Meola and Camarón de la Isla. Along with Paco’s second guitarist of ten years, Juan Manuel Cañizares, Jorge and Rubem agreed to collaborate on O’Shea’s Alkimia album.
Flautist and saxophonist Jorge Pardo was barely in his twenties when he began to share the world stage with de Lucia in the seventies. Renowned as the spearhead of the Nuevo Flamenco scene, with many awards under his belt, he has created a stylistic space all of his own, fusing elements of Flamenco, Moorish, African and Jazz music, securing a place as one of Spain’s greatest player/composers.
Rubem Dantas will forever go down in the annals of Flamenco history as the man who bought the Peruvian percussion instrument, the cajón (box), to flamenco music during his tenure with Paco’s band in the seventies. Realizing the potential this instrument had to blend seamlessly with the guitar and palmas, he created a sound that is so associated with Flamenco that many are not aware that this instrument is a relative newcomer.
O’Shea also enlisted the talents of other great Spanish players such as the percussionist Nan Mercader and guitarist Chema Vilchez, another musician who crosses both the worlds of Flamenco and Jazz through his work with Richard Bona and John Patitucci. Not forgetting his Irish roots, O’Shea also called upon the renowned Folk flautist Philippe Barnes to add his Celtic flavors, and the young Peruvian born virtuoso violinist Benjamin Sarfas whose improvisational daring belies his age.