Christmas + Santa Fe
Release Date: October 17th, 2000
Label: Epic Records
Artist: Ottmar Liebert
Album: christmas + santa fe
For Ottmar Liebert, every day seems to be Christmas lately. The guitarist's debut record Nouveau Flamenco has become the top selling guitar album of all time. He's received Grammy nominations, several of Billboard's New Age Artist of the Year awards, and his music can be heard on soundtracks and the popular live video, Wide-Eyed + Dreaming. Now the celebrated musician is sharing a bit of that personal holiday spirit through his latest Epic release, christmas + santa fe, Liebert's follow-up to last year's Innamorare/Summer Flamenco.
The title of the new album is inspired by his current residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the native of Cologne, Germany has lived since 1986. The warm, arid town in America's Southwest transforms during the winter into a charming, picturesque setting for the holiday season.
"Albums are often about a time and a place, and if I hadn't been living here, I don't think this album would have been made," Liebert says. "There's something about this town that is so special during Christmas time. There are four streets where all the residents put up farolitos -- brown paper bags with sand and a
candle in it. The candle is held up in the sand and then burns out in it without, usually, setting the bag on fire. For hours, strangers will just stand together in the candlelight and sing Christmas carols with each other. It's quite a remarkable and unusual experience."
Selecting from a variety of genres and influences to construct a style that is distinctively his own, Liebert takes great liberties with the seasonal classics that make up christmas + santa fe. "Only about 50 percent of each song is based on the original compositions," he says, which explains why none of the titles fully reveal the familiarity of the tunes.
The opener "Santa Dancing" delicately echoes the strains of "Deck the Halls" before taking off into a flamenco foray. The Spanish flavor is also apparent with "Farolitos On Garcia," a homage to those indigenous, sand-steadied candles set to the chords of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." "Snow Angel," Liebert's favorite track, is a galloping classical rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" augmented by his tasty electric slide work. Only the moody "Winter's Solstice," with its muted trumpets and dissonant rhythm chords, is a complete original.
Liebert's conviction, expertise, and ability to experiment help craft a Christmas album that retains its emotional grandeur without resorting to over sentimentality. "I think that's achieved depending on how you play a melody," he says. "If you're going to impose unnecessarily a swing element or add a little bit of a schmaltz twist, it sort of wrecks the melody. If you see Christmas songs as folk music and play the melody with that in mind, these tunes are gorgeous. There are a lot of beautiful, old melodies people have come up with for Christmas."
Surprisingly, Liebert doesn't consider himself much of a holiday music aficionado. "I think I might have bought a Frank Sinatra Christmas album. But I really don't keep any around the house," he confesses. But his house still proved a site rife with Christmas spirit, considering the album was recorded entirely at Liebert's home studio in Sante Fe. Produced by Liebert and engineer Gary Lyons, the result is the artist's 12th record in ten years.
Collaborating with the guitarist is his longtime group Luna Negra, who he views as a "rubber band" in terms of its flexibility. "Luna Negra is whatever I want it to be. I remember one time on tour in Australia that it was a duet. It's been everything from a two-piece to a nine-piece."
For this record, Liebert approaches Luna Negra as a five-piece act, utilizing two percussionists, an upright bass player, and a trumpet player, in addition to his signature acoustic guitar. Lively sounds of bongos, cajone, clave, cowbell, and an udu (a Nigerian clay drum) accent the traditional instruments.
"Christmas music is folk music. That's where it comes from," Liebert explains. "This record works because it's got a mixture of that folk element and some Latin music and other styles. I try to make it all fit as a whole. But I wouldn't consider myself a folk musician. I'm mixing up too many different things to be folk."