Santa Fe, New Mexico- Ottmar Liebert is back in town after a month in Italy, checking out the sites, including Dante's tomb in Ravenna. The most famous image associated with the Tuscan poet is the celestial rose, the white flower of the Empyrean, a heavenly vibration of pure white light beyond Time and Space. Could Dante's rose be the "Winter Rose" of Ottmar Liebert’s new CD? Some tracks certainly have a cosmic feel, a sense of starry space and inner clarity, a REM dream rhythm that's both classical and contempo. But isn't the red poinsettia considered the "Christmas" rose? Yes... and this vibe also fits, as this is a double-character album.
Consider: North meets South, Christmas meets Felice Navidad.
A time to reflect, a time to party. As a collection of classic Christmas refits and original Ottmar Liebert compositions, the concept here is brilliant. The kids have gone to bed, you're on the couch dreaming in front of the fire, a glass of wine, a glass of Napoleon B, who knows, but you're dreaming. Track 2 is playing, “Little Town of Bethlehem/The City of Tijuana”... people you miss, people you love... then there's a gentle shift into electro fiesta time, and you're south of the border, maybe in some dodgy cantina slinging back Aztec Golds as the fireworks explode... and then, gently, you're back in acoustic Bethlehem in the snowfields under the stars. Amazing compositional control here, this double-character style that's the signature of Winter Rose.
The mood is never allowed to collapse into sentiment, although sentiment is used. Tradition sets the ceremony, although the ceremony includes reggae... just as in Track 7, “Kora/River of Stars”. This is one beautiful number. For those familiar with Ottmar Liebert, you'll recognize his jazz octave ghosting, and the hypnotic flamenco glides. Bassist Jon Gagan is riding shotgun on the old sleigh here, so you bump into reggae time, and then space out on the "river of stars" via JG's big string harmonics and synth squeals.
But surely, as some advance listeners have proclaimed, the best track is “Les Roses d'Isphahan”, Ottmar Liebert’s interpretation of Gabriel Faure's [1845-1924] homage to the ancient Persian city known for its superlative rug weaving. While Faure was mining romanticism the same way that Coleridge used the ancient world in the opium fantasy Kubla Khan, he was also evoking the poetic image of the rose, which of course is used as a mandala motif on many Persian rugs.
No question, this is a landmark interpretation. It's really a duet between Ottmar Liebert’s guitar and Jon Gagen’s bass as lead, with some synth as back-color. Nice big valley echo here and there, and believe it or not, the ghost of jingle bells in one passage. The spacey call and response between the flamenco guitar and the fretless bass, cadenced like roses floating on a river, beauty flowing through... memories flowing...you, flowing. Melancholic? Sure, but a masterpiece of the continuously unfolding melody form.
Thirteen tracks, and you can get them all in every store that carries CDs - or you can download the music with downloadable CD art. Where, and how, you ask. The new version of the SSRI [Spiral Subwave Records International] Listening Lounge has Winter Rose, and you can listen to the tracks before downloading. You can also find CDs/tracks by other musicians, including Transit, the excellent jazz tropicale album by Jon Gagan, bassist for Luna Negra. There are many gems posted from the SSRI vault, including alternate takes, mixes, live tracks, and recent CDs such La Semana along with various mp3 sample speeds... and no copy protection [DRM].