mercredi 17 novembre 2010

Les Alegrias espagnoles d'Howe Gelb

L'année 2010 aura été bien remplie pour Howe Gelb. Il aura enregistré un album en Espagne avec des musiciens de flamenco, Alegrias, sous le nom de Howe Gelb & A Band of Gypsies et avec Giant Sand, il vient de sortir Blurry Blue Mountain, un nouvel album pour les vingt-cinq ans de carrière du groupe. Mais il faut immédiatement préciser qu'Howe Gelb est le fondateur et unique membre original de la formation actuelle. Ce qui ne l'empêche pas de distinguer ses projets solo, ceux de Giant Sand et ceux encore d'autres formations (OP8, The Band of Blacky Ranchette, Arizona Amp and Alternator...)... Alegrias s'inscrit dans l'ouverture d'Howe Gelb sur des musiciens d'autres univers que le sien. Après avoir enregistré 'Sno Angel Like You, en 2006, avec une chorale de gospel canadienne, il est allé à la rencontre de musiciens gitans de Cordoue.

Si la discographie d'Howe Geld est pléthorique, il ne faut pas s'imaginer qu'il fait les choses dans la précipitation. Ainsi, cet album est le fruit d'une longue fréquentation de l'Andalousie et de Cordoue où il passe tous les ans depuis 2003. Même s'il refuse en général l'idée que le climat de Tucson, Arizona ait pu avoir une influence sur sa musique, il dit apprécier de retrouver le même climat en Andalousie.

Pour le magazine Blurt, Howe Gelb raconte combien il a vite été fasciné par les talents de guitaristes des musiciens qu'il rencontre... "Ces types jouent de la guitare d'une façon qui continue de me laisser sans voix dès que nous nous asseyons ensemble. Ils jouent comme s'ils avaient inventé la guitare, parce que c'est ce qu'ils ont fait. Je ne peux pas prétendre avoir essayé de jouer leur rythmes. Je ne sais pas les jouer, ça me donne le vertige. Ca m'excite et j'aime beaucoup mais je n'arrive pas à les comprendre, je suis juste limité au 4/4".

Il n'empêche, la communication s'établit : "mon espagnol est très limité et craint vraiment. On n'échange pas vraiment avec des mots - on a des discussions mais qui reposent beaucoup sur la mélodie, et l'émotion qui se trouve derrière cette mélodie, la texture du grognement, les éclats de rire. Et bien sûr, avec la guitare, ce n'est même pas nécessaire..."

A l'arrivée, on constate qu'Howe Gelb a imprimé sa "patte" au projet...

D'autres extraits de l'interview à Blurt, que je n'ai pas traduits cette fois-ci...

"This guy had asked me to come and hang out in Córdoba and record - and I get that invitation a lot from different parts of the world, and it's very sweet, but you never know if you can make time for it or what to gamble on and all that. But then he mentioned the word "gypsies" and the more I began to hear him out and hang with him, the more I liked him. Then I went to his place - and his place is incredibly like Tucson, except more dense. More Tucson than Tucson. Exact same climate, same kind of tastes. I stayed at his house, it was like an old wobbled barrio, very similar to where I live here in town in Tucson. And one by one these gypsy fellows would show up, and they'd throw down some guitar, and I'd go, ‘man, that's the shit, that's where it came from.' That's like when you recognize the source of the Nile. I had to think quick there - I thought, ‘well, I can't do that. I can't go anywhere near that.' But then I know I can play something that will completely boggle them - or so I hoped.

And that was some stride piano. Because they can play every instrument, these guys, including piano. But the rhythms in stride were as curious to them as theirs were to me, fortunately. And that's when all of a sudden the smiles came out, and once that broke the ‘let's see what you've got' austerity of the moment. We all want to hang with each other anyway, peoples of the world, but there's that moment where you go, ‘wait a minute, I just can't be a sap or be taken advantage of, or why should I spend my precious time here with you' or whatever. And then you realize there's something going on here. And then it's all about, ‘let's work together to see what this thing is and where it can go,' not where it can go on record, but where it can go just within the moment of playing, or will it be a complete train wreck. So that's how it kind of started, and then it began escalating and escalating and escalating, and then I would just go there, supposedly to record, but for the sake of just living there for a little bit, because it just felt like my life, it felt like my home. The end result was this record.

The players who kept showing up to play and kept appearing just kept getting more and more incredible until finally the grandest player of them all showed up. Raimundo Amador, the first guy in the late ‘70s to combine flamenco with the blues. Anyhow, what I came to learn was that through the years flamenco was redelivered to the counter-culture in the ‘70s the way Led Zeppelin redelivered the blues to our western counter-culture. It was done with this two-piece group, Lole y Manuel, and this woman and this guy came up with this full-on flamenco but adorned with the sensibilities of the era, to the counter-culture. They are folk heroes. Raimundo was a kid of 14 or 15 on the streets, and he would go and hang out at their house, started playing within their camp. There's a lineage, then he started playing with this guy named Tomatito, and I happened to discover Tomatito in the ‘80s when we were on the same label with him as Giant Sand (Imago Records). I would play his record when I lived in Joshua Tree in the late ‘80s - the only three records I'd play were him, Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits, which had just come out, and this Miles Davis record, Ascension to the Gallows (Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud), was the English translation of it, it was a film soundtrack. So, anyway, when Raimundo finally showed up and he played, he did a few riffs that reminded me of that time-frame and took me back to Tomatito, and it turned out that Tomatito was getting his juice from Raimundo, they were playing together all that time way back then, so it was a wonderful full cycle-event for me to meet this guy. And he's a national treasure, you walk down the street with him and everybody in every walk of life knows his name.

The record is called Alegrias, which is a form of flamenco, but also taken from the root word meaning joy, alegria. So, anyhow, I just did what I do, and they applied themselves accordingly, the same way that the gospel choir did. I just play what I play. I took some old Giant Sand songs, like I did with the choir, that seemed to have the chord structure that was similar, or aligned to, the chord structure to what I thought gospel was, and in this case with what the flamenco chord structure was. Then I wrote a whole bunch of new songs just from being so titillated and tantalized and downright inspired by the event that all these new songs started popping up, just like the ‘Sno Angel thing. It's coming out in a couple weeks in Spain first because the Spanish are embracing it like sort of the indie rock version of whatever the counter-culture thing was with Lole y Manuel. A few times flamenco would be reinvented for the decade, or the period of time, it doesn't happen every decade, for those that we used to call the counterculture, the subculture, the underground, whatever. Where it's not really forced, it's not a tourist thing, it's not like, ‘oh, I'm getting old now, let's go make the blues record' kind of thing. It's the same sensibilities that can be discerned - it's encoded, you can hear it - but it's utilizing a big part of that culture. I don't understand that, it's not my part, I just saw how much I loved being there with it, and with them, and surrounded in that sound, and how it really just juiced me - it was the same kind of dizzy thrill I would get from them playing as I got from the gospel choir. That makes me know that I'm in the right place - and what comes out of it I never have any idea before".

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