Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jose Gonzalez (& Tom Kerstens' G Plus Ensemble)

So, seeing Rihanna and Jose Gonzalez in the same week kind of blew my musical senses away - you couldn't get two 'artists' (I put that in quotes as I don't consider Rihanna an 'artist', but rather an entertainer, whereas I definitely view Jose as an artist).

But I have a word of advice for you:  if you ever happen to be struck down by tonsilitis, I swear, watching and listening to Jose Gonzalez perform for over an hour in the Royal Festival Hall is probably as good a comforter as any Halls cough drops or hot honey & lemon drink.  I'm speaking from experience.

Say the name, "Jose Gonzalez", to the average music listener and they're likely to go, "Who?"  But play them his covers of Massive Attack's 'Teardrop' and The Knife's 'Heartbeats' and they'll go, "Ohhhh ... that guy."  Yes, that guy.  Which is a shame, really, because his own work is just as heart-achingly beautiful, if not more.   I can't say I knew any better, sadly, (which seemed true for most of the people in the audience, but I'll get to that in a minute) as I learned of Jose through his work with Zero 7, a favorite of mine (which is also how I came to find Sia Furler, who I also love).

Opening for Jose was Tom Kerstens' G Plus Ensemble - talk about obscurity (or rather, my ignorance)!  Having never heard them before, I was moved to buy their CD immediately at the interval - their performance was that profound.  The G Plus Ensemble is the brainchild of Tom Kerstens, who is also the London Guitar Festival's Artistic Director, and is composed of a string quartet, plus two guitars and a percussionist.  Yes, I said percussionist.  So rarely do you hear pieces for percussion and strings (I immediately think of The Ahn Trio) that I was instantly smitten by the arrangement.  The guitars added extra depth, texture and intrigue to the pieces by Joby Talbot, whose compositions were reminiscent of Michael Nyman and Eric Ewazen, for example (I later read that he has composed scores for movies and television series, which makes total sense).

When Jose took the stage approximately 40 minutes later, the audience erupted into rapturous applause (there were some hardcore fans there).  I was a bit worried that his performance in a venue like the Festival Hall would be dwarfed by the sheer size of the space, but he owned the stage - albeit in a quiet, humble way.  The stage set was simple: a silhouette of three trees on a screen and a terrific use of pattern and color lighting contributed to a very powerful effect.  Curiously, he spent a lot of time tuning his instrument.  Whether it was out of perfection, a tic, a break or a tease for the audience, I don't know (I like to think it's a bit of all of the above), but after a while, it became quite noticeable.  Still, the set was sublime; his remarkable skill at the guitar is enough to leave one open-mouthed, but when his voice cuts in, clear and crisp as a frosty winter's morning, it's really perfect.  I can't think of any other way to describe it. 

Listen for yourself in this clip below (a cover - sorry - of Kylie's "Hand On Your Heart"):

Photo source

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