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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

Tuesday, November 15, 2011.


Regular Breath-of-Life readers already know that I’m a huge fan of Concha Buika—and if you don’t know, you can go here, here, and here to get in the know. So it is no surprise that I’m featuring her new album. Funny, my first impression was between lukewarm and low-heated; partly because I had already heard a number of the tracks and partly because there is a wide sampling of genres and styles so there is no consistent sound anchoring the 26 tracks. Indeed, I ended up making my own playlist of tracks.

Late, late one night (actually it was close to 3am in the morning) as I was heading off to dreamland, one of the live cuts came up on my iPhone that I use to play music to go to sleep and as an alarm clock to wake up. I lay in the dark, impressed, nay more than impressed; I thought goddamn she is going to break something.

I could have turned over and reached out to the nightstand to grab the phone so I could see what track it was but I was both near sleep and wide awake. My body was almost asleep but that track had fireworks going off in my consciousness. A few days later it hit me: I was listening to the Coltrane syndrome.

Back in the early sixties Coltrane was producing studio albums that ranged from mainstream to avant-garde. At the same time that he was putting out John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman and Ballads, Coltrane was blowing the shit out his horn, just completely over-hauling everything everyone thought was possible on a saxophone. Trane was playing with such fierceness that it sounded like a soundtrack for a heart attack.

Recently I purchased Complete Live In Stuttgart 1963 and damn near went into a coma listening to Trane blow a titanic quarter hour (or more) solo on “Impressions,” his composition based on Miles’ “So What.” It’s almost 50 years later and that shit is still killing, still blowing the cobwebs out my mind, still making me fear for the health of the man blowing the horn (yeah, I know Trane is long gone from the physical realm but when you hear the force of this solo you can’t help thinking you’re being sonically accosted by a living force).

I own over 100 Trane CDs, I’ve heard a lot, but Trane still has the power to surprise (I’ll be writing more about this music soon, so for now let me get back to why I brought up Trane in the first place). Trane was a monster of music, a beautiful monster, a spiritual monster, but a monster: an outsized force that blew away everyone and everything that was contemporary to his sound.
In her own way Concha Buika sings like Coltrane played the saxophone. She makes beautiful, nuanced, sensitively rendered studio recordings and she produces live recordings that sound like an apocalyptic prelude to moments of utter rapture. She sounds like she is having a breakdown but managing by super-human effort to hold it together: her voice goes ghostly, sometimes harsh, shrieking, other times mostly air and a sudden drop in volume like as if she were receiving a bullet to the brain or maybe suffering a massive stroke.

There is no other way to describe some of what she does. A lot of it is art-ful, others of her sounding is awe-filled sound. “Volver, Volver” (track 10, from a 2011 performance at the North Sea Jazz Festival) is her Coltrane “Impressions” solo. The only recorded vocals surpassing Concha that I’ve heard is Abbey Lincoln with Max Roach on the Freedom Now Suite (which if you don’t know, you really need to immediately acquire). In the 1960s black music was sun strong, fierce as a slave rebellion, which is what much of the music was really about - breaking away from western control and concepts.
Lying in the dark, I thought, I didn’t know anyone was still singing like this, with this out-sized passion and total commitment.

Concha’s new album En Mi Piel is a double CD set that includes some of her hits interspersed with new recordings, both studio and concert. But it’s not a proper retrospective or greatest hits release, indeed, in that regard it is more a tease than a satisfying outing. And yet, some of this music is so mesmerizing, so stupendous that it would be criminal to avoid listening because you’ve heard nearly half the tracks before, or because you really don’t want to hear the duet with Seal.

I was so moved by the North Sea track that I went on a deep phising internet expedition to see if I could capture some more video or downloads. I didn’t find much from that specific concert but I found a bunch of other videos of live performances. And just like Trane, much of it was poorly recorded. It really is a shame that Impulse didn’t record more live Trane, and a double shame that when they did record Trane live, sometimes they did a shitty job.

Anyway, eventually I was able to cull a literal handful of strong Concha live tracks. I did an audio rip and rounded out the Mixtape with five such tracks, including a live version of “Mi Nina Lola,” which many fans think of as Concha’s signature song much like “My Favorite Things” was for Trane.
One bit of trivia—well, not trivia, but something listeners have no way of knowing: during her live performances, Concha is constantly dancing and directing the band cueing solos, changing arrangements. They watch her like they are the JB’s and she is the Godfather (aka James Brown and his band). Plus, like Trane she gives her bandmates ample room to stretch out and they generally acquit themselves very well, especially young pianist Ivan “Melon” Lewis who seems to have an ESP connection to Concha as they interact musically.

By the way, the last track, “Bye Bye Blackbird” features guest trumpeter Terell Stafford. I’ve read that there are all kinds of collaborations and recording projects in the works, and while I am certainly looking forward to new music, but based on the two or three tracks I’ve heard from Concha’s appearance at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands 2011, plus based on the fact that North Sea is extremely proficient at making quality videos and recordings, I really, really would love to have an audio and/or video of Concha’s 2011 North Sea performance.
I hope we don’t have to wait damn near 50 years to hear it; besides I will be long gone by then! Hopefully, the concert will surface within the next six or so months. Meanwhile, here is a mixtape that offers you a taste of both worlds: Concha in the studio, and Concha live. Need I say: Enjoy!

Concha Buika Mixtape Playlist

concha cover 01.jpg
En Mi Piel
01 “Llegar A Ti”
02 “Se Me Hizo Facil”
03 “You Get Me (with Seal)”
04 “En El Mismo Lugar”
05 “Jodida Pero Contenta”
06 “Oro Santo”
07 “Bahia Negra (with Bebo Valdes)”
08 “Volver”
09 “Perla Marina (with Ivan Melon Lewis)”
10 “Volver Volver (@ North Sea 2011)”

concha buika 109.jpg 
Misc. Bootlegs
11 “Ay De Mi Primavera”
12 Javier Limon & Buika @ North Sea 2011
13 “Y Quién soy yo + Nostalgias”
14 “Mi Nina Lola"
15 “Bye Bye Blackbird”

Kalamu ya Salaam is a writer and filmmaker from New Orleans. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop.

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