Sònia Sánchez (dance)
Agustí Fernández (piano)
Ramón Prats & Oriol Roca (drums)
Marc Cuevas & Àlex Reviriego (bass)
Julián Sánchez & Pol Padrós (trumpet)
Oriol Fontclara, Tom Chant & El Pricto (saxophones)
Marcel•li Bayer (bass clarinet)
Aram Montagut y Frédéric Filiatrae (trombones)
Amaiur González (tuba)
Albert Cirera (saxophone, conducting)
Iván González (conducting)
Often, people attend concerts to hear particular musicians, or the performance of a specific piece of music. With Memoria Uno, there’s another draw – we’re also there to experience an idea, a vision. The idea is that a large selection of musicians (on the original studio recording, there were 40) can be conducted, guided, directed without sacrificing freedom of improvisation. The conductor (and visionary) is Iván González, but the roster of musicians at any given performance can, does and will change. The first concert (4th February at Sala Fènix) was broadly similar to the recording, drums, piano, a large string section with everything from bass to violin, and a broad selection of brass and woodwind but the changes in personnel (and, no doubt, González’ own spontaneity) produced a very different experience. This second incarnation was devoid of strings (except for Cuevas and Reviriego on bass) and so was much more ‘horn-heavy’. Add Agustí Fernandez’ formidable piano skills and Sonia Sánchez’ physical interpretation and we’re all set for a fresh new iteration of the Memoria Uno concept.
To begin with, a familiar opening gambit: the thunderous free-for-all building to a sudden stop, leaving just the doubled drums and basses in a free clatter. In ones and twos, the saxes and brass are cued in. The woodwind and brass sections are played against each other as the piano, bass and drums are allowed to freewheel. It’s immediately noticeable that this performance is much more piano-heavy than the last (closer in that respect to the album) but then, if you have someone of AF’s stature in the band, I guess you don’t waste them on ’embroidery’. Then again, the more I watch the musicians, the more apparent it becomes that while most are wearing expressions of fierce concentration, hardly taking their eyes of the conductor for fear of missing a split-second cue, Fernández is playing much more as his own man, so to speak. Naturally, his every interjection and contribution is exquisitely timed and weighted (one would expect nothing less) but I guess it’s a case of, nobody conducts the maestro!
As things settle down a little, individuals are given more personal space, with several granted solo moments. Tom Chant delivers a free-squawk-fest as only he can; Frédéric Filiatrae likewise gets to exercies his slide a little later on; and Albert Cirera gets a prolonged moment to demonstrate some fairly nuclear tenor playing (when he switches spots with Iván González to conduct the third piece, he returns the favour and gives IG space to deliver what might be the most incendiary solo I’ve heard from him to date). Sònia Sánchez, by virtue of being the sole dancer, draws every eye on the occasions she is invited in, with a personal version of flamenco filtered through the Far East. As usual, the ‘sweeping hand technique’ is in evidence, González swinging his limbs back and forth rapidly and each musician playing only when pointed at – at one point, creating a travelling wave of sound, dense flutters of brass and woodwind that billow beneath a duet of piano and feet.
Another familiar technique from last time is the use of a heavy brass riff to drive and anchor the music. It was especially (and wonderfully) over the top in the third improvisation, courtesy of Amaiur González’ tuba. Is there a difference between the two conductors? Possibly González exercised more dramatic control and Cirera created a more organic sense of freedom? Perhaps. But I certainly don’t have a preference.
By turns, over the course of an hour and twenty minutes, the mood swings from joyous (playful even), to sinister, to aggressive, to constrained and hesitant – but whatever’s on the surface, you get the impression that beneath it all, everyone (even the occasional frowner) is just having a damn good time. I hope so, because we certainly were.
Incidentally, the third performance (also at Sala Fènix) will feature no blowing whatsoever, being practically the opposite of the second with just string musicians plus piano and drums. Can’t wait…
(Image courtesy of the pens of Miquel Jordà.)
(The usual excellent photos were taken by Elena Márquez.)