Release Date: 1996
Label: Epic Records
Artist: Ottmar Liebert
"To me, the title Opium suggests a drug that seduces you into a whole different world. And with this album we tried to create our own little world, which takes from alot of different sources. We don't feel like we belong to any particular culture exclusively. With Opium, we're creating a little world and seducing people into it."
The acclaimed guitarist and composer Ottmar Liebert is on the line from his home city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, talking about his new Epic album Opium, a stunning two-CD set which contains some of the most ambitious and eclectic music of his wide-ranging career. Like the portholes of a ship, the two discs of Opium ("Wide-eyed" and "Dreaming") form what Ottmar describes as "two windows into this world: One is the brighter, wide-eyed, faster side, the other is the mellower, introspective side."
This ambitious work, Ottmar Liebert's first new studio album in two and a half years was originally conceived as a single disc. In the early spring of 1995, Ottmar began recording at his own Spiral Subwave studio in Santa Fe, "and within two months, we were suddenly working on more than 30 pieces. We could record at our own pace: The engineer was staying at my house. There were no constraints - just total freedom."
The core band for the Opium sessions consisted of Ottmar on acoustic and electric guitars, Jon Gagan on bass and keyboards, and Stefan Liebert playing assorted percussion and keyboards. There were joined, on various tracks, by percussionist Mark Clark (who performed on Ottmar's two previous Epic albums, ¡Viva! and The Hours between Night and Day); Luna Negra's new drummer Carl Coletti; percussionist Woody Thompson; and Eric Schermerhorn on electric guitar. On some tracks, their instrumental performances were blended with the vocal performances by Magali Amadei, Ashkan Sahihi, Bok Yun Chon, Lobsang Samten + Olga Kammerer. At other moments, the music was combined with ambient sounds recorded in such far-flung locales as Milan, Singapore, and Hawaii during the course of Luna Negra's 1994 touring year.
For the recording of Opium, Ottmar explains, "I'm using my flamenco guitar, which was made by Eric Sahlin of Spokane, Washington, and a midi-flamenco guitar made by Keith Vizcarra of Santa Fe.
"I played two electric guitars, one of which is a Roland Stratocaster - a Japanese copy of the Fender Stratocaster which came with a Roland guitar synthesizer. I've since ripped the synth out and put in new pick ups, a new whammy bar - it's acompletely different guitar now. The other is a Gibson ES-335 (semi-hollow body) but in a pearl-white finish. I played the electric guitars through either a Mesa Boogie or Groove Tubes amp. And on some tracks I'm playing a fretless lute - although it sounds more like a Turkish oud since we took the frets off."
On April 1, 1996, Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra will begin a headlining US concert tour with a new lineup of musicians. The '96 touring will band will feature Jon Gagan (bass), Ron Wagner (percussion), and Carl Coletti (drums). "Again, we're combining the ancient and the futuristic Carl plays a Roland Midi kit - basically pads, not a drum in sight - while Ron plays tablas and dumbek, an Arab percussion instrument."
"I'm trying to grow in every direction at the same time," says Ottmar Liebert. With the music of Opium, he's reaching beyond the peaks of past achievements to a new creative horizon.
The Story So Far
Born in Cologne, Germany to a Chinese-German father and Hungarian mother, Ottmar Liebert began playing guitar at age eleven. Following the completion of a course of study in classical guitar, the eighteen-year-old musician embarked on a series of journeys through Russia and Asia. He travelled widely and studied traditional music, but found little outlet for these crucial experiences in the Western pop music of the late '70s and early '80s. First in Germany and then in Boston, Liebert put his guitar skills to work in a series of jazz-funk bands, the last of which broke up in 1985. Frustrated and disillusioned with the East Coast music business, Liebert heade West.
In Santa Fe, Liebert found himself captivated by the city's laid-back artistic ambiance and freed from the need to make it in the music business. He began playing his own music for his own pleasure, and later for increasingly receptive audiences in local restaurants. By 1988, the first incarnation of his new band, Luna Negra, had been born.
The CD which eventually became Ottmar Liebert's debut album Nouveau Flamenco began its life as a self-produced local release titled Marita: Shadows and Storms. Santa Fe artist Frank Howell had arranged for the pressing of 1,000 copies of Marita to be distributed along with his drawings. When copies of the disk found their way to a number of radio stations, programmers began adding tracks to their playlists. Higher Octave Music remastered Marita and released it nationally under the title Nouveau Flamenco.
By 1993, the album had been certified gold in the US; by 1996, it was close to platinum. Two subsequent Higher Octave releases - Poets & Angels (1990) and the Grammy-nominated Borrasca (1991) - followed Nouveau Flamenco to #1 on the Billboard New Age charts.
Solo Para Ti, the 1992 Epic label debut by Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra, featured Carlos Santana's trademark guitar on two tracks, including the Santana classic "Samba Pa Ti." The album not only went to the top of the New Age chart; it cracked the Billboard Top 100 Pop albums, garnered Liebert a second year of acclamation as Billboard's new age artist of the year and was certified gold in December, 1995. Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra reached thousands of new fans in 1992 as the opening act on Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable" US tour and through a pair of performances on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show."
In 1993 a new Epic album, The Hours between Night & Day consolidated Liebert's position as an avatar of global music. The acoustic guitar master now thickened his sonic weave with electric guitar riffs in pursuit of what he characterized as "real acoustic and electric musicianship with some programmed computer-aided music design." Among the album's high points were a mind-opening rediscovery of the Fleetwood Mac/Peter Green classic "Albatross"; and the transmogrification of the Marvin Gaye soul standart "Mercy, Mercy Me" into the Spanish "Ten Piedad de Mi" with the addition of José "Grillo" Blanco's lead vocals.
In February, 1995, Epic released Euphoria, a remix collection inspired by Luna Negra's 1993-94 tours of Europe and South America. Ottmar gave "complete freedom to add and subtract and reconstruct our songs" to such master mixers as Steve Hillage, Aki Nawaz, and DJ SLip (of Compton's Most Wanted fame). Responding to years of fans' requests, Liebert released ¡Viva! - the first concert album of his career - in June, 1995. ¡Viva! was, as Ottmar promised, "a true live album - no edits, no overdubs, no fixes" - and it captured all the energy and emotion of a classic Luna Negra performance.