No matter what axe or style they choose as their bread and butter, most of today's popular instrumentalists have felt the influence of Miles Davis. Ottmar Liebert's platinum-selling 1990 breakthrough Nouveau Flamenco established him as an icon pursuing a brand-new path of his own creation - one where flamenco tradition meets pop sensibilities and New Age tenderness. Somehow, that road began with Miles. The classically trained guitarist recalls how the trumpet legend's In a Silent Way changed his musical life at age 15. "I was just learning how to improvise on steel-string when I heard Miles for the first time, and my first instinct was to drop the guitar and pick up the horn," says the German-born Liebert. "I was knocked out by how a single note or line could set up the whole mood of a song, and how he phrased passages using breath modulations. The silences between notes were just as important as the notes themselves, and his horn would play over the charted musical bar. I stuck with the guitar, but vowed to create a style that would be more human than mechanical, that would allow me to 'breathe' rather than simply play a barrage of notes." A move from the East Coast, where he had pursued a rock career, to Santa Fe, New Mexico around 1990 helped ease that transition. Strolling patiently around his irresistible melodic hooks, Liebert has since become one of the most acclaimed and best-selling contemporary instrumentalists. Nouveau Flamenco announced not only an artist but a virtual genre. Still, Liebert is quick to admit that while traditional flamenco music intrigued him early on, he has simply used its rhythms and history as a basis for his own, more accessible pop sound. "If people begin to explore true flamenco as a result of enjoying my music, great," he says. "But there's no need for purists to get hung up on titles and categories. What I do is a fusion of elements that tap outside the traditions, taking from flamenco what I enjoy and mixing it up in a way that makes sense to me. As a European living in America who grew up on jazz and rock-and-roll, I haven't lived the life of a gypsy. On the new album, in fact, there's just as much mariachi, Caribbean rhythms, and blues." After recent excursions into classical and dance music, Liebert has returned to the simpler joys of his early '90s works with his new Innamorare/Summer Flamenco (Epic). But there are a few new exciting twists this time: a vibrant horn section and more of a focus on Carl "Cozmo" Coletti's trap-set rhythms, most notably. With their loping, gently swaying melodies punctuated by aggressive, percussive hooks, tunes like "Verano de Alegria," "Spanish Steps," and "2 the Night" are spirited, Caribbean-flavored reminders of Liebert's first radio hit, "Barcelona Nights" - only this time with bursting brass harmony lines, extra kick (including drum and percussion duets), and subtle blues-organ underpinnings. Liebert has always balanced his exuberance with touches of melancholy, but here, even reflective moments give way to optimistic glimmers. On tunes like the tribute "Ballad 4 Santana," Liebert weaves his guitar gently around Jon Gagan's sly, mournful bass line before the horns spark a fire, which in turn spurs the guitarist on an upbeat tangent. With its brisk, 6/8 rhythm and colorful improvisations off a folksy melody, "Alameda" is a mariachi-styled piece that contrasts dark and light to great effect. As a producer, Liebert likes to take chances with instrumentation to achieve particular moods. Indian tablas and Mike Middleton's muted trumpet spruce up the hypnotic atmosphere on "Desert Elysian," while Eric Schermerhorn's twangy slide guitar adds a dash of cowboy spunk to "Borboletta." If it sounds cinematic, so does Liebert's explanation. "Here I was drawing on the positive energy of love between two people as well as the glorious sights I saw on a trip to Tuscany with my family two years ago," he says. "Recording at my home studio in Santa Fe brought back memories of my firstrough demos for Nouveau Flamenco, and I sought to recapture the energy and rudimentary charm of those days."
--- JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc. -- From Jazziz