Renaud Garcia-Fons: Entremundo

Robert R. Calder

Here comes everybody into the party, in transcontinental Indalucia, land of Raga Tango Flamenco, and the man not satisfied even with five strings to his bass. Hablemos Sanskrit y Esperanto!"

Renaud Garcia-fons


Label: Enja
US Release Date: 2004-08-24
UK Release Date: 2004-05-24

The posters are out on the German street here as I type, a week before I fly out for a couple of months in Scotland (whose music the blurb material confirms is represented here; I hear it too). I will miss the advertised concert by the dazzling performer of the solo improvisation on double bass which concludes the set under review.

This time I won't be able to hear what the Garcia-Fons trio sounds like, as a trio, performing live, without its leader's indulgence here in almost unlimited sociability. He doesn't merely incorporate influences from far and wide into his music; he's brought a semblance of entire populations into a chorus of instruments. Actually, not that many individuals are involved -- ten -- but Garcia-Fons wants to embrace everybody. I won't doubt his words. His spiritual ambitions might even be said to resemble those of Beethoven at the end of his ninth symphony, the choral movement which his most earnest admirer, Verdi, regarded as a mistake. Much as I revere Verdi, I'm otherwise persuaded by the extent of desperation with which Beethoven opened that huge work, the destruction against which the final hymn to joy and brotherhood-sisterhood is sung.

I do think that the music on this CD rather falls in on itself, and becomes something less momentous because of its boundless "world" ambitions. There is a great deal of colour and variety, but the point of mentioning Beethoven is to contrast with one musical conception of a spiritual theme another one whose tendencies rather merge into the reiteration of a truism. The music here's a little over-organised to get away from being fun, to express inspired contrasts and set up something which would turn the harmonising ambitions and achievements into a resolution rather than just an enthusiastic, startlingly accomplished harmonisation. I want some Southern Baptist fervour, an edge.

We begin in the musical setting of Mexican-Californian brass, and an instrumental singalong, bal musette meets Peruvian flute.

And then we have the lone strumming flamenco guitar, joined simply by the rest of the trio, though the exuberant leader seems to be playing not an upright bass but a five-string orchestra. From his grave in Poland, to which he was sent prematurely by a shocking intake of black tobacco French cigarettes, do I hear the great post-Coltrane fiddler Seifert? An oud? The flute seems however to be yet one more of the voices of the five-string bass.

The actual flute which turns up again is keeping company with a tabla, and as we go on the musical language is definitely Indian, only performed in transcription by a chamber orchestra. Can Daniel Schnyder have moved on from his attempted transcription of Abdullah Ibrahim's music to something Hindu, or Indo-Jazz Fusions with strings?

And now we have Indalucia, a wallow in the romantic rhapsodic, then a relaxing stroll into the territory stumbled on by a scholar I shall not name, when he referred to the unknown Hispanic theme taken up by Sydney Bechet in one of his most magnificent 1940 recordings. Far from being unknown, the theme was an old New Orleans composition in pseudo-Arabian mode, pirated by Bechet (who wrote a lot of other people's tunes, or is that the wrong way round?) as "Egyptian Fantasy". Perhaps Bechet did compose "his" tune "Kasbah", but Garcia-Fons is a French-born virtuoso of Spanish ancestry and flamenco origins in the market for a great deal.

We seem to be back in France, a country Bechet made his own and whose music he influenced, for here comes the Quintet of the Hot Club of Indo-Europea, with flamenco and a fiddler (presumably among the big bass's five strings?) marrying Benares and Barcelona. Do I hear Piazzolla? There is a trumpet and a saxophone (the real brass instruments) and the rhythm seems to be "and blues" in its flavour. Tango Morisco? Raga? Ragout?

But we're back to Aranjuez, announced by a real flute (rather than one of the five-string bass's voices) and a lady is dancing in taps, flamenco.

It's remarkable how much more concentration is achieved when, getting away from the party, Garcia Fons settles to playing a solo composition -- "Aqâ Jân" alone on just his five strings. The difference is something on the lines of, though not identical with, that between one of the tasteful orchestrations of a Chopin work for solo piano and the original work executed by ten fingers. There is Flamenco, there may even be something of the great Catalan Casals, playing something between his spiritually native Bach and the "Cant del Ocells" of the native land from which he was for so long exiled by loathing totalitarianism and Generalissimo Franco. One is reminded of disturbing truths south of Panama by the Tango-without-bandoneon passages of the utterly astounding solo which concludes the great feast of a hundred dishes which is this CD.

Other than in that solo the musical effect seems somewhat diffused. There are no doubt thousands of people whom this CD could make feel pretty good. Forget any association between Garcia-Fons's embrace of the world and the spiritual ambitions of Beethoven. This is feel-good music -- enjoy! -- though, as I don't mind repeating, the sheerly solo final track, unlike the rest, is a singular experience.

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