Review: Gerardo Núñez, with Carmen Cortés - Flamenco Festival London - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 22 February 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 25 February 2015

Gerardo Núñez (right), with Carmen Cortés. Photo: Fotohuta.

Gerardo Núñez is a supreme virtuoso flamenco guitarist. At 53, he has an awesome command of sound, whether it comes via the fast-paced tempo of the bulerías or in the gentle lyricism of the seguiriya. Here is a musician that would be worth travelling across continents to experience live and we Londoners were so fortunate to have had him play in our city, albeit for one night only.

Although Núñez’s guitar is the lead influence throughout this concert that bears his name, it was the seamless integration of all five collaborative contributions that made it such a meaningful and memorable evening. The ensemble is so intuitively connected that they can – and do – finish each other’s phrases, picking up rhythms as they come and go at will, passing el duende (“the spirit”) of flamenco among them as if sharing a bottle of rioja and a plate of tapas.

The concert opened with Donde duerme la Luna (“where the moon sleeps”), a gentle rondeña (although denoted in the programme as being mixed with the flamenco form of a farruca) in a rippling conversation between the maestro’s guitar and the cajón playing of the larger-than-life percussionist, Ángel Sánchez González (who reminded me of another great drummer, Phil Collins, in playful personality, if not physique). It was a captivating introduction, setting an outstanding standard of musicianship, the excellence of which remained constant throughout.

Although some of the flamenco musical forms used are later variations, and some represented the more joyful cante chico style, the unspoilt, almost primitive cante jondo style (literally “deep song”) was well represented in the superb vocal range of David Carpio, a regular singer with the Núñez ensemble. Carpio’s highly expressive style was very heavy on vibrato, his voice shaking for long sequences while accompanied by the emphatic stabbing actions of his right hand.

The fourth musician in the party was an outstanding bass player, Pablo Martín Caminero who also doubled-up as resident comedian, acting as a dryly witty interpreter for Núñez’s opening remarks, which the guitarist tried to hijack by playing chords as Caminero spoke. The bassist got his own back later by saying that nothing much of what his boss had said was really worth repeating! The whole evening was characterised by this friendly laid-back emphasis. One of the later highlights of the concert was Caminero’s duet – A dos velas (“two candles”) – with González; both playing simultaneously on the double bass; Caminero plucking the strings while González tapped out the rhythm on the frame, while occasionally jumping into his partner’s territory to finish his musical phrases on the strings.

The celebrated gypsy dancer, Carmen Cortés, completed the quintet and her deeply refined, passionate and pure flamenco style was the icing on a very grand cake. Cortés and Núñez are married to each other, a simple expedient that may explain why and how they appear to be so mutually attuned to their respective art with her free-flowing improvised movement sitting on his music like finely calligraphed notes on a stave. The spirit of flamenco flows through Cortés like an electric current, in fast, rolling footwork that transmits through to her long arm extensions and spiralling wrists. As if a woman medium emerging from a trance, Núñez was utterly and visibly exhausted at the end of her final solo.

Two soleás (soleares) at either end of the programme emphasised the traditional structure of the concert but variety came in the livelier, joyful alegrías (entitled Ítaca) – also in the more playful cante chico form – and the concluding, upbeat bulerías, entitled Jucal, a popular Núñez number, which provided the title for his award-winning 1994 album.

The enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience called the group back for two encores, the last of which saw the rotund González attempting to both strum Gerardo’s guitar and dance a few of his wife’s steps, along with Caminero. These efforts at flamenco footwork caused much mirth among the cognoscenti, since at least one of the two was from Northern Spain, and thus an interloper to this rarefied Andalusian world (although it is worth noting in the complicated regional politics of flamenco that Cortés is a Catalan from Barcelona, albeit of Andalusian parents). This was a good-humoured ending to a jocular and virtuoso evening of ever-absorbing entertainment. I didn’t switch-off for a second.

Flamenco Festival London continues at Sadler’s Wells until 1 March

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He writes for Dancing Times, Dance Europe, Shinshokan Dance Magazine in Japan,, and other magazines and websites in Europe and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards in the UK. Find him on Twitter @GWDanceWriter

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