Review and photography by Suzanne Goodwin
"What sort of an experience was this to be?" I wondered. To be honest, I had not actually heard any of Ottmar Liebert's music before. I had been told that he was a fantastic musician, and what I had read of him had certainly been interesting. With this in mind, I let myself become absorbed with the room's environment and looked forward to (what was to become) the "Ottmar Liebert experience".
The intoxicating atmosphere of the room was intensified by the appearance of an (unfortunately anonymous) barefooted belly dancer upon the stage. She floated in without introduction and proceeded to bewitch us all with undulating moves and intricate hand gestures. Dancing both with and without props of burning candles and swords to rhythms of a Middle Eastern flavour, she was a whirling, glittering jewel. The air of mystery and magic she exuded in her performance was the perfect complement to the almost cosmic atmosphere that preceded Ottmar Liebert's performance, so much so that the transition from belly dancer to Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra was barely perceptible. They silently emerged from the shadows, seamlessly blending their music with that of the belly dancer's while she evaporated from the stage.
Barefooted and casually dressed, Ottmar Liebert appeared as though there was no other place in the world more comfortable for him than playing his music onstage. He sat in a large upholstered chair, his supposed love of casual Santa Fe style evident in the very living room-like props about him on the stage. He was surrounded by large, very seductively comfortable looking cushions, and the scene was accented by very colourful, yet subtle, lighting which held a dappled quality, reminding me of shafts of sunlight as seen from underwater. Behind all of this and the aforementioned candles, the kaleidoscopes continued, adding yet even more visually cosmic elements to the entire experience.
While all of this made the performance a completely sensual and undoubtedly memorable experience, Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra could have captivated us on the strength of their musical talents alone. The first set was decidedly flamenco in musical style. Using acoustic guitars, Ottmar plays without a guitar pick, his fingers coaxing such beautiful, pure and intricate sounds from his instruments that hearing it seemed almost religious. Liebert was flanked by Luna Negra, infinitely talented musicians who complemented the guitarist with nothing more than an electric bass, drum pads and traditional ethnic percussion instruments. It was a magical combination of sound that was nothing short of perfection.
Luna Negra's rhythmic backdrop was both subtle and interesting in its own right. At one point, as Liebert temporarily left the stage to replace a guitar string, Luna Negra alone enchanted the audience with their intense and complex rhythms. It was a bit surprising that Liebert himself left the stage to do this, but the caliber of the performance suggested that these musicians like to maintain their own personal quality control. No one seemed to mind. It was just like sitting in a friend's living room while they played for you; if one of them happened to leave for a couple of minutes, it was no big deal. Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra's performance was that effortless and relaxed.
The second set of the evening consisted of more experimental and introspective works. This half of the performance was peppered with up-tempo, lighter tunes underscored by very classical sounding, delicate guitar melodies. There were some moments where it seemed that the sounds emoting from Liebert's guitar were almost speech-like, admonishing you to come into his aural oasis and enjoy the sunshine. He and Luna Negra worked as one, seemingly playing off of their apparent intuition of the other's next move, leading to one supposedly very spontaneous "jam": Ottmar would palm and tap a rhythm on the body of his guitar while Luna Negra would counter it. This would carry on until they broke into a new number, with nary a beat missed.
This entire show was instrumental, and with the exception of a very brief recorded piece of new-age-like keyboards, no other instruments or sounds were used. To be able to enchant several hundred people for over two hours with such natural and beautiful sounds was what impressed me the most. The visual elements of the show may have conveyed how Liebert might perhaps personally feel about his music, and, from that perspective, they were an important part of how this artist apparently wants others to feel his music. While Ottmar's talents very much transcend these visual trappings, they made his performance all the more powerful and into a whole, complete, sensual experience.
I came away from this performance feeling all the richer for it. I had experienced a whole new artist and musical genre, and I couldn't wait to rush out and buy an Ottmar Liebert CD (perhaps his new double release, Opium?). That kind of says it all, doesn't it?
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