Review: Florilegium / Aloysius Leeson
Flamenco Australia Magazine welcomes articles from guest authors.
Morgan Taubert is an author, musician, poet and blogger. By day he works as a farm hand and gardener, by night he tries to improve the world through art, writing, music and the study of ancient history. You can find his work online at www.letterstocicero.blogspot.com and www.zebulonstoryteller.bandcamp.com and on Youtube under the name: Zebulon Storyteller.
I am an outsider to Flamenco, both the music and the dance. I listen to this music without the vocabulary to describe it in terms of its own traditions and history. I listen to it without the benefits of cultural understanding, but also without the burdens of cultural assumptions. In order to speak on it, I must invent my own lexicon. Striving for noesis, I write from a position of emptiness. Filling my ears with the sounds of this music, and through listening and careful observation of my inner reactions, I might come to share with you a summary, a synopsis of this Florilegium from the garden estate of Aloysius Leeson.
Having said that, I think I need to begin with a quick look at the lives of Julián Arcas, Isaac Albéniz and Joaquín Rodrigo. The lineage of teachers and students seems an important facet of this album, as Leeson pays his homage to these composers by playing his own versions of their works on his album.
Julián Arcas (1832 - 1882) the composer of Soleá de Arcas (track 2), was given the title "Honorary Master of the Conservatory of Madrid", as well as "Knight of the Royal Order of Charles III". He was taught according to Dionisio Aguado’s method, and went on to teach Francisco Tárrega, all big names in classical guitar and flamenco.
Isaac Albéniz (1860 - 1909), composer of Leyenda (track 4), is most known for his piano compositions, of which Asturias (Leyenda) is one. He was awarded the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur by the French government. Also, though perhaps seeming a small matter in the shadow of such high honours, Robbie Krieger, guitarist of The Doors, reworked the melody from Leyenda in the song "Spanish Caravan" on the group’s album Waiting for the Sun.
Joaquín Rodrigo Vidre (1901 - 1999) composer of Prelude 1 & 2 (tracks 8 & 9), completely lost his sight at the age of three after contracting diphtheria. From nine years he began to study solfege, piano and violin and from the age of 16, harmony and composition. He wrote his compositions in Braille, which were transcribed for publication. He was awarded Spain's highest award for composition, the Premio Nacional de Musica, in 1983 as well as many other honours. Also, though again it might seem a small matter, Miles Davis and Gil Evans drew inluences from Rodrigo for their 1960 album 'Sketches of Spain’.
With Leeson's inclusion of the works of these legendary luminaries of the classical and flamenco world, I begin to understand the context of his Florilegium. The garden from which these flowers have been plucked is an old one, rich with the honour and achievements of men whose lives were devoted to music, and who gave the world great beauty. Beauty which through the hands of this modern devotee may inspire a new generation of listeners and players.
But the album is much more than its roots and influences, for Leeson is an innovator and his original compositions must be considered standing shoulder to shoulder with the masters from whom he draws his inspiration. The word Florilegium means more than 'a collection of flowers', it is a word used to describe an anthology of poems, short stories and ballads. So this album without words, without singing of any kind, might be a book of poetry to be listened to with the whole body. Perhaps dancing is the best way to listen, the warmth of our own muscles and the flowering of our own joy in movement might be the fullest manner in which to understand the true presence of Leeson's music.
So, it seems I must speak of dance. These melodies are sometimes so complex that my mind races to follow them, yet my feet and arms and hips seem to understand and move with an instinct that is not born of living familiarity, but which is inspired by the raw energy of the songs themselves. Like rain, these melodies upon the dusty earth do fall, starting as a single droplet, they coalesce into great and forgiving summer storms that break thunderously over the Vela de Luz interior of my home, in which I listen to this album over and over and over again. Midnight passes unnoticed while my imagination dances, liberated from rational thought by the orchestrations of a single guitar.
But if I am to speak of dance, then now at last, I must speak of the drum. Adrian van Nunen made the cajon he plays on this recording. I do not know the details of van Nunen's cajon design, but as a cajon player myself, I can attest to the remarkable precision and clarity of his playing, and the sweet distinction of musical accents his instrument produces. His cajon sounds beautiful, tailored to suit him, it matches his eyes and his hair and makes of him a gentleman. He is at times a smoky-smooth jazz drummer gently sweeping the drumhead, his fingers supple and soft and at times his synchronous bulería syncopation and drum corps precision evoke images of a lone, brightly uniformed snare drummer marching on parade, his hands aflame.
I feel that Nunen listens to every single note Leeson plays, and that he chooses every strike, snip, snap, stamp, stomp and roll to accompany him without ego. Even in his silence, in his absence, I hear his choice to remain silent. He is a drummer immersed in the deep ocean of maturity, without the need to prove his skill. He accompanies without accosting, he comforts the ear as much as he excites the heart. Like a blind warrior, he listens and waits before striking, careful to never over extend and unbalance himself or the music.
I stare straight ahead, into the sound. I imagine every note, I imagine the spring flowers of joy that seem to burst from even the most melancholy of melodies. Leeson’s music is at peace with itself. Aloysius and Adrian seem at peace with each other, no voice overpowers the other, there is no conflict....no conflict....in many ways this very thing could be the greatest weakness in a musical partnership, but for Leeson and van Nunen, it is not only a strength, but their congruence, their confluence, their seamless compatibility: a ship on the sea, a stone in the earth, a bird in the sky.
It is the love that I hear loudest of all. I imagine the candle-lit nights of rehearsal and creation, the discipline of a devotion to a higher calling. I see morning dew upon drowsy pink flower petals, the first clear light of day glimmering upon their perennial colours. This album, which grows from a soil rich in tradition, produces blossoms which are new and full of the fragrance of happiness and peace.
To quote Federico Garcia Lorca, from his poem Your childhood in Menton. 'The same love as ever, but never the same!’