Raphaël Faÿs’ “Extremadura”

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FAŸS: Extremadura. Primera Buleria. La Hija de la Arena. Raquelita. Ranger Rumba. Cuando Baila la Luna. La Marquesa. Solea Para Sabicas. Colombiana. Ballade a Tyranna / Raphaël Faÿs, Tito, flamenco gtr; Laurent Zeller, vln; Alejandro Gimenez, Clara Tuleda, voc; Raquel Gomez, dancer; Claude Mouton, bs; José Palomo, dm / Fremeaux & Associes FA 8577

This is the second release from Fremeaux & Associes for October devoted to a modern “take” on Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz quintet, the first being Fapy Lafertin’s CD which I reviewer earlier.

Raphaël Faÿs differs from Lapertin in that he is not a Manouche gypsy, but an Andalusian gypsy whose background is in both classical music and flamenco. Although flamenco guitar playing is a genre unto itself, it has some similarities the French-Belgian style played by the Manouche, particularly the use of hard, banjo-like downstrokes using a pick rather than politely playing the instrument with the flesh of the fingers. The flamenco style also incorporates passionate dancing and singing, both of which are folded into these performances here.

But perhaps the biggest difference is in the rhythm, which is “harder” than that of the Manouche players. Anyone who has heard actual flamenco records will know what I mean. In fact, I would wager that most of those who come to this recording may not even consider it a Django-type jazz album, yet there is improvisation aplenty along with handclapping, shouts of “olé!” and foot-stamping that almost drowns out the bass and drums on some tracks.

Faÿs also differs from Lapertin in that he is, like Django was, a bona-fide guitar virtuoso who can literally play anything that comes into his head. His technique isn’t just dazzling; it is almost beyond description. I would liken the speed of his playing to that of legendary guitarist John McLaughlin, except that Faÿs’ improvisations are actually interesting.

And yet, despite the raucous opening shouts on the second track in this album, La Hija de la Arena, and the sound of a flamenco dancer (Raquel Gomez) with castanets, the underlying music is a jazz waltz of the type that one could easily imagine Django having played. Yet what makes this album so enervating and fascinating are not just all the things I’ve just mentioned, but the fact that Faÿs is a very serious musician. He’s not just having fun, Andalusian-style, with his flamenco playing, but creating his own music in the extended improvisations that he plays. The music is just accessible enough to Western ears trained on the Reinhardt sound to pass muster, but of course it will also attract the attention of flamenco fans (a much smaller group, alas) as well.

Another interesting feature of Faÿs’ playing is that he attacks the strings with such hard pick strokes that, at times, his instrument almost sounds like a lute rather than a guitar. Whatever strings he is using, they have a metallic sound that is quite unusual by our standards. In addition, our violinist, Laurent Zeller, plays in a style that bears no relationship to that of Stéphane Grappelli, but rather has a sort of folk-music feel about it. All of this comes to bear in the third track, La Hija de la Arena, where we hear the full band playing for the first time. The background handclapping is so insistent, however, that you wonder why Faÿs felt that he needed a drummer for this session.

I would also add that, because Faÿs’ playing is so strongly influenced by flamenco, it lacks one feature of Django’s playing, and that was the influence of the blues. Faÿs plays no “bent” or “blue” notes as Reinhardt did, for the simple reason that the flamenco style does not use them. In the guitar solos Raquelita and Solea para Sabicas, one can clearly hear the difference in style between Faÿs and Reinhardt. Occasionally, I got the impression in some of his improvisations that Faÿs was simply “showing off,” but not often enough to be troublesome. And let’s face it, sometimes Reinhardt was also showing off.

Cuando Baila la Luna is a fast-paced number in A minor that sounds the most like one of Django’s tunes from the early 1940s, and the band plays it very well. This is also just the second piece on the album where one hears Zeller playing the violin; he almost seems more like a guest artist who pops in once in a while than a regular member of the band. Here Faÿs bends a few notes, but not in a blues manner. Compared to most of the playing on this album, Colombiana sounds mostly gentle and relaxed, and it is the only track to feature the singing of cantatore Clara Tuleda. The album closes out with another slow piece, Ballade a Tyanna, a gentle goodbye piece reminiscent of the Beatles’ Fool on the Hill from a guitarist who has wound you up for nearly an hour.

This album is definitely one of the most stunning I’ve heard this year. If you love gypsy jazz guitar and/or flamenco guitar, you need to hear it!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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