Ottmar Liebert Reveals the Bigger Picture of Music
Benjy Portnoy
10/29/2003 7:31:01 AM

Ottmar Liebert has played a role in the trend of genre-bending seen over the last 10-15 years in the music world. With his Nouveau Flamenco (released in 1990), the world was introduced to a man who would twist the rules commonly associated with world music, new age, flamenco, etc., into a realm that’s at times a firestorm and simultaneously serene; a world where breaking tradition is just as key as following it.

Such was the case at his recent Pageant appearance (St. Louis). For a show that would be more commonly associated by a Sheldon-type room, Liebert’s gypsy atmosphere fit quite well. The humble stage setup consisted of little more than sitting pillows, a chair, and a modest, yet not cheap lighting rig that, like Liebert’s music, equals more than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps Liebert’s greatest strength is his ability to flow seamlessly through varying levels of energy. Accompanied by his band, Luna Negra, the men weave varying musical textures and colors into more of an ongoing aura, as opposed to a single style. Throughout the night, elements of flamenco, jazz, new age, funk, lounge, and even trance music were incorporated into the mix.

Liebert has kept his band diverse throughout the years. But this tour’s personnel is a great representation of his insistence on innovation and contrast. To his right was percussionist Ron Wagner, deftly moving from tablas to bodhran, berimbau, bells, and so forth. On the left was DJ or “virtual percussionist” Canton Becker using nothing more than a laptop computer. After watching the two men go back and forth, it was obvious that Liebert was offering us a sense of comparison. On the right was the oldest known form of musical expression. On the left, the newest. It was as though Liebert was flanked by sonic evolution.

A likely reason so many flocked to the show was to see authentic flamenco guitar and related instrumentation played by men at the top of their game. One might argue that the use of computer tracks drew away from this sense of realism and authenticity. But Liebert seems, in general, to carry a higher purpose. It’s as though he was trying to force his audience to examine the bigger picture of music, perhaps suggesting that we, as listeners, should take a step back from our musical comfort zones and acknowledge that music is not as stratified and boxable as we typically picture it. Rather, it’s an incestuous, interweaving collection of sounds and styles that has nothing to do with the labels we typically affix to artists.

His commentary was extended to the recording industry’s tendencies in general though a mildly barbed protest against the recent offensive on music piracy. “The industry is going through some growing pains,” he said. Admitting to how he used to copy Led Zeppelin records when he was a kid, he asserted that everyone in the recording industry has done the same. Suggesting that he prefers to remove himself from the hypocrisy, he said that his latest album, Nouveaumatic, is available exclusively through his website and on tour. He also encouraged people to download several free songs directly through

Quite the departure from some of his penny-hungry contemporaries who have made their mark on the industry. Liebert certainly seems to have stayed true to his goals and vision of acquainting the masses to foreign musical worlds, but has found ways to put his own stamp on it with every passing year. This tour is no exception – the general audience pulse was a spark that appeared to satisfy Liebert just fine. If this show was any indication, the man will continue enlightening music fans of all types for years to come.


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