On the darkly blue, luminous stage of Sadler’s Wells instruments lie in wait for Flamenco Meets Jazz. A grand piano is illuminated from within, a double bass lies on its side and a drum kit sits in anticipation. The stage is set for some of the most accomplished musicians and composers, and yet it is the guest dancer Jesús Carmona who brings most of the vivacity to this evening.
Each musician is extremely talented in their field, with this group being led by the indomitable Dorantes on piano. His skill as a performer is exceptional, and his use of the piano unorthodox – at times he leans forward into the belly of the instrument to pluck at the strings, or restricts the vibrations in order to create a completely different quality of sound. The piano is also used percussively, with a refreshing combination of irreverence for tradition and respect for the instrument that enables new and invigorating musical possibilities.
A similar attitude is taken by the exceptional double bass player Adam Ben Ezra, who astounds the audience with his solo flamenco piece. Somehow Ezra encourages his instrument to sound not only like a double bass, but also like a guitar, striking the strings across the neck of the instrument in an allusion to the iconic sounds of this Spanish dance. The subtlety with which his percussive sounds vary on the body of the double bass is also intriguing, and the sense of the dance being distilled into this music is heightened when the audience is invited to clap in rhythm as Ezra taps his heels and toes in flamenco patters whilst still playing his instrument. It is a complex, multi-tasking piece, and the use of the audience enlivens the moment with a sense of fun and fiesta.
Tim Ries on saxophone also includes the audience in his solo, playing two notes that are sustained by each half of the viewers. This in some ways makes it difficult to listen to what is being played, as a significant amount of attention then goes in to producing and sustaining the correct note. However, it is a beautiful and inclusive moment, with Ries’ solo evoking the ululating vocals of a flamenco singer.
Jesús Carmona is exceptional, dancing with vitality and precision amongst the complicated rhythms of the hybrid jazz/flamenco pieces. He moves easily from fluid, expressive movements to strikingly executed footwork: the slide of his feet on the floor cuts through the air like the sound of sharpening knives. His turns are dynamic, water flying from his luscious curls as he whips around at exceptionally high speeds. In keeping with the hybrid nature of the evening, Carmona introduces some more contemporary movements, including jagged deconstructions inspired by street dance.
At moments the music seems to rather restrict the dancing, with rhythms and styles struggling to enmesh. There are large periods of time when Carmona is offstage, which is a shame, as the audience response indicates when he returns for a final dance. The musical solos are exceptional, but the group pieces quickly feel uninteresting without the magnetic presence of the dancer in their midst. They may have met, but whether flamenco and jazz will have a long and happy relationship is yet to be seen.