Release Date: May 15th, 2001
Label: Epic Records
Artist: Ottmar Liebert + Luna Negra XL
Album: Little Wing
"This album is a stopping point to look back before I move on," explains Ottmar Liebert of his new release Little Wing. "It really feels like a last album for me."
Thankfully, Little Wing is not the flamenco visionary's last album, but rather the last product of his current incarnation as a musician - a pause to reflect on past influences and styles before moving forward into new musicalpursuits. Since his move to Santa Fe in 1986 and subsequent exploration of flamenco guitar, Ottmar Liebert has taken the ancient guitar style into new and unthinkable realms, fusing it with everything from Bossa Nova and dance rhythms to soothing environmental new age synthesizer sounds. Little Wing is a mosaic of such styles and influences.
Named for the Jimi Hendrix song covered within, Little Wing is a diverse collection of carefully crafted originals and beautifully interpreted classic rock songs that showcase Liebert's extensive repertoire and superb musicianship. From the ethereal and transcendental touches of the title track to the delicately administered instrumentation of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," Liebert breathes new life into the classic rock songs that influenced him in his youth, successfully augmenting them with the wide array of distinctive flavors he has used to distinguish each of his previous twelve albums.
"I remember saying to somebody that I wanted to do 'Kashmir' with a Bossa Nova feel," explains Liebert. "It sounded a little crazy, but it sort of worked out nicely that way. Sometimes when you understate something it becomes more powerful."
Similarly, his upbeat and understated performance of The Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" takes the song to new ends, brushing strokes of guitar and saz on a canvas of soft but deliberate percussion heightening the song's enticing mysterious Middle Eastern feel. Little Wing also features a perfectly suited rendition of Jobims Bossa Nova classic "The Girl From Ipanema," which uses carefully metered doses of muted trumpet and soft Brazilian beats to color Liebert's plucked melody.
In addition to paying homage to past influences, Little Wing reviews past styles through a gamut of emotive original tracks. "Like Water 4 the Desert (Rain Montuno)" walks a soothing and teasing acoustic guitar/bass tandem through two placid verses before falling effortlessly into soft percussion. As the percussion gels, Liebert takes liberty with the intensity of the song, unleashing a succession of tight flamenco flurries and set-back muted trumpet injections. "I really like the way that one feels," explains Liebert. "It had percussion and rhythm in the first half of it, but then one day I just took all of that off and it just breathed beautifully without all the percussion."
Where "Like Water 4 the Desert (Rain Montuno)" shows a more organic side of Liebert's work akin to his amazing debut Nouveau Flamenco, "Untitled (la noche)", "Aqua Fria (Cold Water)", and "The Pearl" implement catchy dance rhythms and light doses of synthesizer indicative of the Euphoria and Opium albums. From the melancholy tones of the title track to the delightfully uplifting nature of "Daylight Melody," Liebert leaves very few emotions untouched on Little Wing. "I think my personality oscillates between the rather brooding and the sort of bright stuff I've done," explains Liebert. "It's like sugar and salt I think. If you put too much in, it's hideous, but at just the right amount it tastes good."
On "Yarrow: Snaky Desert Song," Liebert uses an electric guitar and rattling sounds over lumbering percussion to aurally depict a snake slithering through the desert. "I wasn't happy with the way the guitar melody was fitting, so at the last moment, I decided to try it with an electric guitar to give it a kind of snaky sound," explains Liebert. "So, we played with this beat up Japanese Strat imitation I got in 1982 or 1983 - it's got this wonderful whammy bar on it and it turned out to be the perfect thing for that song."
Liebert's approach to recording "Yarrow" is indicative of his approach to recording in general, viewing the entire recording process as an evolution of song that doesn't end until the very last minute. "To me, recording is very much like painting," explains Liebert. "You sketch something, add something, and if you don't like it, you just paint over it or take it away or paint more white."
After Little Wing, Liebert will embark on three distinctly different musical journeys. As mentioned in the liner notes of Little Wing, he will continue to record acoustic based sounds indicative of Nouveau Flamenco with his ever-changing band Luna Negra. Ottmar Liebert's Euphoria will explore flamenco fused with world beat, dance rhythms, ambient sounds and synthesizers. Lastly, the busy Flamenco pioneer will pursue quieter styles by himself.
"I need to split myself into parts because I think I've taken some of the mixing as far as I can take it," explains Liebert. "I like these three different elements of my music too much to not take them each into a separate direction and let them grow. I think by splitting into three entities, the people who like all of my music will have more music from me, and those who like one style more than the other will be able to pick just that."
While embarking in three different directions would terrify most contemporary musicians, it is an exciting and natural proposition for Liebert, whose growth as an artist has taken him in many new directions.
Born in Cologne, Germany, Liebert began playing guitar at 11, completing a course in classical guitar at age 18. After traveling for a year through Asia, absorbing the influence of each musical tradition he came across, Liebert found himself back in Germany and then Boston, performing in a number of jazz-funk and rock bands. Eventually frustrated by the East Coast rock scene, Liebert moved to Santa Fe.
"I wanted to look at my music and my life with open eyes and ears and see where I really wanted to go, and I realized I had never been as comfortable with an electric guitar as I was with a nylon stringed guitar," explains Liebert. "I love the intensity of flamenco, but I always knew that I wasn't interested in traditional flamenco, I was interested in how I could combine that with the Bossa Nova and everything else - rock jazz classical - into a different thing, a more personal thing. I wanted to make it part of the whole soup that is today."
Since the release of Nouveau Flamenco in April of 1990 with his band Luna Negra (now the biggest selling guitar album of all time), Liebert has done just that. 1990's Poets and Angels and 1991's Grammy nominated Borrasca followed Liebert's debut to the top of Billboard's New Age charts, prompting a contract and subsequent release of Solo Para Ti with Epic Records in 1992. Guest performer Carlos Santana helped Solo Para Ti once again top the new age charts, eventually cracking Billboard's Top 100 Pop chart as well and earning Liebert his second consecutive honor as Billboard's New Age Artist of the Year.
The Hours Between Night and Day (1993), which was also nominated for a Grammy, saw Liebert adding elements of electric guitar, while 1995's Euphoria was an adventurous collection of danced-up remixes inspired by Luna Negra's live performances. Growing pressure from fans prompted the 1995 release of his first live album, Viva!, a uniquely honest effort with no edits or overdubs.
Liebert's next project, 1996's double album Opium, also Grammy-nominated, was an adventurous synth and sample laden project featuring both the energetic bright and mellow introspective sides of the artist. Later that year, Liebert ventured into the television realm as well, recording Wide-Eyed and Dreaming, a live concert in Calgary, Canada that has been widely shown on PBS and was released by Epic Video on VHS tape and DVD.
Leaning Into the Night/Inclinado en la Noche was released on Sony Classical in 1997, a collection of twelve compositions arranged for guitar and orchestra which not only established a new direction for Liebert, but won him an eight week stay atop the Billboard Classical Crossover chart. The retrospective Rumba Collection 1992-1997 album features highlights of Liebert's work on Epic in addition to a few previously unreleased gems.
Innamorare/Summer Flamenco, released in 1999 found Liebert joyously mixing flamenco with elements of jazz, classical, funk, merengue and other dance rhythms. The Live show featured an 8 piece Luna Negra XL touring band which was filmed in New York for PBS Sessions at West 54th Street and in Toronto, Canada, for Bravo!. Last year's Christmas + Santa Fe saw Liebert transforming classic Christmas songs into beautiful new half original half traditional compositions inspired by the holiday as celebrated in his home town.
Little Wing is an entertaining look back at Ottmar Liebert's many influences and stylistic forays before he takes another in a seemingly endless line of bold steps forward. "It would've been obvious to remake Nouveau Flamenco a bunch of times, but I'm not interested in money," explains Liebert. "If I can't develop and find interesting things, then I might as well become a banker or something." If history is any indication, Liebert can bank on continued success despite his stylistic pursuit.