David Peña Dorantes and his band delivered a dynamically jazzy, flamenco-influenced set at the Gaillard Auditorium on Sunday night despite a last minute venue change. Earlier in the day, Spoleto officials announced that Wells Fargo Jazz concert was switching venues, from the Cistern Yard to the Gaillard Auditorium a few blocks away because of a particular nasty weather forecast.
Dorantes is well known in Europe for his flare for exploring the exotic sides of jazz. Growing up in a musical family in Sevilla, the heart of flamenco country, he naturally developed a love for flamenco guitar and all of the rhythmic and melodic aspects of the genre. Dorantes’ flamenco stylings were emphasized in most of the previews for his Spoleto performance, so it was a shock to hear such a diverse and eclectic set of instrumental pieces on the Gaillard stage.
Dorantes opened the show with a dramatic, rumbling solo piece on a full-sized grand piano. His virtuosic technique impressed the audience, but his fiery and expressive playing simply dazzled. Within the first piece, he mixed elements of classical, gypsy jazz, Latin folk, and a touch of vintage Americana (think Gershwin doing a soundtrack to a sultry noir flick). After welcoming double bassist Javier Moreno and drummer Nano Peña to the stage, things heated up even more.
The band sounded terrific, thanks to a warm and balanced mix from the production team. From the middle of the stage, Moreno skillfully plucked and bowed in synch with Dorantes, trading bass lines and complementing melodic themes. His wilder moments reminded me of legendary jazz bassist Stanley Clarke’s 1974 piece “Spanish Phrases for Strings and Bass.” Grinning and occasionally raising an eyebrow, Moreno made the sophisticated bass work look playful and easy.
Seated at a tightly assembled four-piece jazz kit at stage left, Peña faced his bandmates while playing with a light but commanding touch. He occasionally let loose with a loud snare flourish, tom fill, or cymbal accent, but his style was consistently fluid and crisp. Peña’s mallet and brush work was especially intricate, and it fit the piano-based sound of the trio, never getting in the way or clashing with Dorantes’ percussive piano runs.
Dorantes guided most of the program through rhythmic patterns of threes, either in 6/8 or 4/4 time signatures, with plenty of triplets and poly-rhythmic accents. At times, his playing resembled the jazz and classical fusions of veteran player Chick Corea. It was intense, upbeat, and mesmerizing.
There were no castanets or elaborate costumes on stage, but the passionate spirit of flamenco ran through every number. The way Dorantes and his group drew from it, danced around it, and reworked it made for an amazing concert.