Pianist Chano Dominguez returned this year to the Jazz Fest, after last year's guest appearance with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. This time around he was leading his own group, presenting a two-part show called Flamenco View, with music drawn from two upcoming albums.
The first half of the show featured Chano, drummer/cajon player Guillermo Mcgill, vocalist Israel Fernandez Munoz, and dancer Joaquin Grilo who also played cajon. They performed Chano's adaptations of music from Catalan classical composers Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albeniz and Federico Mompou. It was evident that space was opened up for improvisation within the pieces but not being familiar with the original works I couldn't say where. Dominguez has found a way to truly incorporate the phrasing and feel of flamenco guitar to the piano - the rolling flourishes, repeated notes, and a real hook-up with the palmas and the cajon. Jazz has been hybridized with his harmonic and melodic sense, some well-incorporated bluesy touches, as well as Dominguez's penchant for quotations à la Dexter Gordon. "Lush Life" and "St. Thomas" popped up in the first half. Fernandez did not sing on every piece, but deployed these heart-wrenching vocal ornamentations at exactly the right time. Grilo played a lot of cajon and palmas but when he danced he was a welcome addition. His opening choreography reminded me a lot of modern circus, and some of his footwork and posture to my eyes was more akin to James Brown than flamenco dance. He and Dominguez shared a great chemistry onstage.
The second half of the concert was a tribute to Kind of Blue, its repertoire re-imagined by Dominguez to varying degrees of success. The group was completed by bassist Mario Rossy, whose bottom end filled out the sonic spectrum and who also proved to be a fantastic soloist in his intro to "So What." "Flamenco Sketches" began this half, appropriately enough, and it went to a much higher-energy place than the song's roots in Bill Evans' "Peace Piece" would suggest, ending essentially as a bluesy descarga in G. Fernandez also improvised admirably over the changes. "Freddie the Freeloader" was recast over an Afro-Cuban 6/8 that did not feel as inspired or as cohesive. When the band switched to a buleria 6/8 feel with two cajons under Rossi's solo, the groove suddenly gelled and felt much better. The highlight was "Blue in Green," with Rafael Alberti's "Poema 51" set to its melody, opening in a powerfully moving duo between Dominguez and Fernandez. "So What" was the most radical transformation, transposed to F, reharmonized, and preceded by a brilliant Rossy solo. Dominguez invited Grilo to dance, trading with Mcgill. The encore was "All Blues," which in an ironic twist was played in a funky 4. A bit of an anticlimactic ending, with Dominguez playing Michael Jackson's "Black or White" for a chorus and really not catching the inspirational spark of the first half.
Dominguez, in his best moments, exhibits a true understanding of both the jazz and flamenco traditions. When they're not forced together by external concept but dovetail with each other through musicality, it's a vivid and thoroughly gorgeous experience.