One day many years ago, Miles Davis visited Gil Evans’ basement flat in New York City, and Evans played him Joaquín Rodrigo’s iconic Concierto de Aranjuez. Miles was immediately smitten, and the two set themselves to collaborate on one of the most beloved works of all time, Sketches of Spain (1960). Miles later remarked that it was the most difficult session he’d ever done.
One of the pieces from the album, “Saeta,” is a Spanish religious song form with a long, colorful history, dating back centuries. Sung during religious processions and Holy Week, the style incorporates many flamenco elements like the elusive element known as duende, which connotes a passion withheld and intensified. It’s kind of like the blue portion of a flame—deeper and hotter than up top. Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca once said of duende: “The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.'”
I will first play the Miles Davis / Gil Evans version, then an older version of by the flamenco great, Manolo Caracol (b. 1909–1973). (Note that, like many flamenco singers (Camarón=Shrimp, Diego El Cigala (the grasshopper, he has a professional nickname: caracol=snail). There is no date on this recording, but my sense is that the recording is from the 1950s. Entitled “Toítas Las Mares Tienen Penas” = All Women Bear Pain, which could be based on the Biblical passage that states that women’s pain in childbirth originated in the Original Sin and the Fall of Man. Or maybe just “a woman’s work is never done”
Next, we feature a more recent recording of Sketches of Spain, featuring the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, with trumpet soloist Arve Hendriksen and Maria Schneider conducting. The thing I find interesting about this newer version of “Solea”—another classic track from the original Sketches of Spain album—is that the trumpet sounds like an Arabic quarter tone trumpet, coloring this reinterpretation with an exotic sound that reflects the Arabic heritage of so much Spanish music. I might be wrong here; it is possible that Hendriksen is slurring the “in-between” notes typical of Arabic modes, but it sure sounds like a quarter-tone trumpet to me.
Next, we turn to a father and son pair of Lebanese Arabic quarter-tone trumpet players: the father, Nassim Maalouf plays a trumpet solo that really gives you an idea of what the instrument sounds like. Maalouf was once called the greatest trumpet player in the Arab world by none other than the classical French virtuoso, Maurice André.
We conclude the show with his errant son, Ibrahim Maalouf, who didn’t want to follow his father’s footsteps as a classical trumpeter, but rather followed his own jazz muse. On his CD, Wind, he was inspired by Miles Davis’ hypnotic soundtrack for the 1957 film debut by Louis Malle, “l’Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud” (Lift to the Scaffold) to create this soundtrack for René Clair’s 1927 film, La Proie du Vent (The Prey of the Wind). He teams up with great jazz artists on this CD such as saxman Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Clarence Penn. Frank Woeste is the pianist.
Rhythm Planet Playlist for 03/27/15
- Miles Davis & Gil Evans / “Saeta” / Sketches of Spain / Columbia
- Manolo Caracol / “Toítas las Mares Tienen Penas” / Grands Cantaores du Flamenco / Le Chant du Monde
- The Norwegian Wind Ensemble / “Solea” / Sketches of Spain / Nor Wind
- Nassim Maalouf / “Les Vepres” (Vespers) / Improvisations Orientales / Nor Wind
- Ibrahim Maalouf / “Suspicions” / Wind / M’ister Production
Here are two clips of the famous Caracol saeta that Miles played: first from Manolo Caracol showing the saeta in a religious procession; the second version by a famous Spanish flamenco singer and actress, Rocio Dural, who looks like her intense singing will heal the sick man.