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The Eduardo Niebla Experience: Eduardo Niebla (guitar), Ricardo Garcia (guitar), Dharmesh Parmar (tabla),  St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, 11.07.09 (GPu)

Like their big brother in London, the Welsh Proms - holidays unfortunately mean that I won’t be able to review many of concerts in the series this year - find room for music from traditions other than the Western classical. At least one concert each year is devoted to a major figure in what has come to be called, however confusingly, ‘world music’. So, for example, an earlier concert memorably featured the wonderful Portuguese fadista Mariza. This year’s concert was given over to the British-based Spanish guitarist Eduardo Niebla – and this was a fine concert too - though played to a disappointingly small audience.

Niebla was born in Tangiers, of Andalucian parents and was then brought up in Girona, in Catalonia – in itself a lively enough mixture of possible influences for a potential musician. And over the years Niebla’s development has embraced an even greater multiplicity of styles and idioms, while retaining a core of individuality and truth to himself. Part of that core comes, of course, from the tradition of flamenco. But, in any case, one of the most exciting dimensions of modern flamenco has been its capacity to welcome - or to colonise, depending on your point of view! - other musical idioms – middle eastern, Indian, jazz, hip-hop. Niebla’s openness of ear and mind has certainly made him receptive to many such possibilities. The catalogue of collaborators and contexts in which he has played and collaborated is truly remarkable. It includes the Palestinian oud-player Adel Salameh, Deepak Ram, the virtuoso of the bamboo flute, legendary soprano sax-player of free jazz, Lol Coxhill, and sitar-master Nishat Khan. As such a list suggests, Niebla’s skills as a listener and a player alike are immensely flexible and adaptable. His own compositional and improvisational idioms are steeped in this rich musical medley.

For his concert in Cardiff Niebla was accompanied by fellow guitarist Ricardo Garcia and India tabla-player Dharmesh Parmar. Garcia is another whose interpretation of the flamenco tradition has been enriched by his extensive experience in other musical traditions; in his case by a prolonged exposure to African music and by an extensive familiarity with Indian performing traditions. Parmar is a young, but well-respected specialist percussionist. The three make a very sympathetic trio, Parmar’s work on the tabla sometimes providing the rhythmic momentum for a piece, sometimes offering a distinctive commentary on the work of the two guitarists.

The programme was made up of compositions by Niebla. They included ‘India’, which began with an extended unaccompanied solo by Niebla himself before he was joined by the other members of the trio. His essentially Spanish phrases are very striking as heard over the Indian rhythms of Parmar’s tabla. ‘Bali’ was full of unexpected colours and some hypnotic rhythms; Niebla’s playing here was intensely expressive and the music full of contrasting dynamic sequences. Though Niebla plays complex runs with clarity and precision, his technical mastery never appears to be an end in itself – technique and emotional expression are almost faultlessly in balance. Niebla is a master of his instrument, and a master communicator. Jazz phrasings – he is obviously thoroughly conversant with the modern jazz tradition – graced many of Niebla’s compositions and at times Arabic influences (particularly in Garcia’s contribution to ‘You’) were strongly in evidence. ‘I Can’t Wait Any Longer’ also had an opening in which middle-eastern influences were creatively re-used. Here and elsewhere the boundaries between what was written and what was improvised were not always easy to discern, and the interplay between the three musicians was a recurrent joy, as, for example, in the way in which (in ‘Para James’ for instance) the accents of Parmar’s tabla filled in beautifully the gaps in Niebla’s guitar line. Niebla’s music, for all its evident rootedness in Spanish traditions, is a million miles away from the clichés of tourist ‘flamenco’.

On a wet and chilly summer (?) night in Cardiff, the compensatory warmth and light of the music to be heard here – full of sunshine and fire and thoroughly redolent of warmer lands – was enough (along with the tapas specially on sale in the concert-hall bar) to make one imagine oneself elsewhere. Time for helado or a glass of cava from the Penedès.

Glyn Pursglove

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