Barcelona Nights

Release Date: March, 2001
Label: Higher Octave Music
Artist: Ottmar Liebert
Album: Barcelona Nights: The Best of Ottmar Liebert, Volume 1

Barcelona Nights: The Best of Ottmar Liebert, Volume 1 is the latest release on Higher Octave Music. Back in 1990, Ottmar Liebert and Higher Octave Music came of age in a simultaneous burst of symbiotic energy. It was a perfect marriage between artist and label, roughly akin to the Beatles and Capitol Records, or John Coltrane signing with Impulse! Records. Do I exaggerate? Hardly. In all three cases, musician and record company arrived at a place of mutual recognition and need, and combined forces to create something larger than either had known previously. And in each instance, a radical new sound was born that galvanized critics and public alike.

In Liebert, Higher Octave sensed an artist with the potential to take the New Age genre into the mainstream. In return, he found in the small, independent label a supportive creative environment in which to refine and expand his musical discoveries. The result, of course, was the classic recording Nouveau Flamenco, a baker’s dozen songs that fused Flamenco, Jazz and Pop into an irresistible new musical form. The recipe, like all great recipes, was deceptively simple. It just needed a musical visionary to put it all together. Ottmar Liebert harnessed the emotional fire and mournful tonalities of traditional Flamenco music, updated it with the subtle rhythms of Jazz and made it widely accessible with the melodic song structures of Pop. The acoustic guitarist summed it up with the apt comment that Nouveau Flamenco is to the traditional variety what Bossa Nova is to Samba.

But even the cleverest formulas are worthless without the animating spark of genius, a quality for which there is no formula, only serendipity. Consider Liebert’s mixed ancestry: Chinese, German and Hungarian. Consider his rootless childhood: a series of journeys throughout Europe and Asia. What a sublime cosmic coincidence that the man who would revitalize Flamenco music should emerge from circumstances so closely allied to the Gypsy experience—from which Flamenco music itself originated hundreds of years ago.Perhaps this kindred spiritual legacy is responsible for the passionate directness of Liebert’s music, the visceral emotional chords it strikes both in fans of New Age music and those with no previous experience with the genre.

Maybe this is why CD buyers responded in such record-breaking numbers to Nouveau Flamenco (nearly three million copies sold worldwide, with platinum status in the U.S.), and Liebert’s follow-up Higher Octave titles, Poets & Angels and Borrasca (the latter achieving gold status in the U.S.). After making this musical triumvirate, Liebert and his band Luna Negra moved on to another label, where he has found continued success in the recording studio and on the concert stage. As well, his musical journey has led him to experiment with additional musical forms (Classical, Blues, Soul) and sounds (electric guitar, horns, orchestra, computers).

For many fans, however, the definitive Ottmar Liebert sound resides in his seminal early recordings, with their purity of musical expression and their innovative excitement coupled with that indefinable yet essential Higher Octave ambience. It’s this sound—both highly personal and universally expressive—that is celebrated in this retrospective CD, Barcelona Nights, Volume 1. There are many facets to this sound: the unique tone that Liebert coaxes from his guitar: at times plaintive and speechlike, at times sensual and intimate, yet always as limpid as a mountain stream; the intricate clusters of notes when he takes off on improvisatory flights of fancy; his original, infectious compositions; and the sensitive backing of his bandmates in Luna Negra—the supple, sinuous bass, the insistent, but never intrusive percussion.Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this music is its intense emotional sensibility, the seemingly infinite range of feelings in Liebert’s sonic spectrum. On this collection, the accent is on the artist’s upbeat and mid-tempo songs. (A second compilation, Surrender 2 Love, comes out later this year and will focus on Liebert’s softer, more romantic side.)

There’s the joyous sense of celebration evoked in the song "Barcelona Nights," and the unabashed optimism of "Santa Fe," both taken from Nouveau Flamenco. This is music of and for the spirit, uplifting and inspiring, as is the song "Festival," from the holiday-themed Poets & Angels CD. Liebert is also capable of adding some grit to even his sunniest tunes. Included here from his Grammy®-nominated Borrasca is "August Moon," which is redolent of forbidden passion and wanderlust; as well as the haunting, mesmerizing title track, which somehow conjures the feeling of a once fiery love affair now reduced to smoldering embers. Yet even when Liebert speaks in somewhat darker musical terms, his innate optimism always asserts itself in the end, and the listener comes away from these tracks feeling a sense of renewal.Many artists specialize in this kind of emotional duality, but few have been able to communicate it with such clarity and to such a massive worldwide audience as Ottmar Liebert. Thanks to his simple yet visionary updating of an ancient musical form, his innate artistry and his unparalleled technical mastery, he created single-handedly a musical revolution the effects of which are still reverberating today. In concert with Higher Octave Music, Liebert charted new territory in the New Age topography, enriching and expanding the genre far beyond its original parameters. In a very real sense, his music has helped obliterate the very notion of music genres.

As we move further ahead into the new millennium, we speak less and less of New Age music and simply of World music. Perhaps someday we will move beyond the restricting confines of labels altogether.But one thing we will never outgrow is our need for musicians who dare to offer us the gift of something new, allied to our need for music companies brave enough to let them do it. Without Ottmar Liebert, there would be no music known as Nouveau Flamenco. It’s kind of like imagining a world without the Beatles or John Coltrane, and that’s a world I don’t want to know about.