Mateo's Blog

Descansa en Paz Maestro Habichuela

Just got the news: Juan Carmona Habichuela has passed. A great accompanist of cante flamenco---one of the very very best, in my opinion. Always incredibly soulful, his toque. A true Master. The world of flamenco grieves.
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Madrid Wrap

April 19, 2016 I'm on the final leg of my return to Minnesota, maybe 2 hours out. Some reflections on my recent weeks in Madrid. SHOWS: Marelu with Paco Cortes' and (top festeros!) Tony Maya and Enrique Pantoja. Her voice is pretty much gone but none of her funky, Extremenyo magic. She danced, too. I left feeling so euphoric. Rancapino Hijo w/ Antonio Higuera. Just a fabulous evening sounding very like his famous father, who was in attendance, too. Great Flamenco Flamenco! Antonio Puerto: not well known, muy cateto, super pure and real cante gitano. Guitarist Rafael Romero was tasty and simpatico. Marcus Miller: bassist of Miles Davis' fame did not disappoint! Excellent. Excellent. His band, his guest artists (Josemi Carmona, Amir, Pepe Bau), his presentation, his INSANE groove. XCLNT! Montse Cortes': very disappointing. Loved her with Canales, loved her with Paco de Lucia. Not tonight. Saw several cuadro flamenco shows, featuring friends, that were of interest and of a high level. Went to a few penyas and jam sessions. Stayed busy, out late every night. Madrid's food and wine scene is exciting. I can't remember either ever being so TOP NOTCH. I made a list of 10 favorite restaurants, new and old. Every meal was a delight and I drank very nice wine always. Antisan vermouth, too. Madrid is clean, beautiful, vibrant, buzzingly lively, safe, multi-ethnic. It has changed so much over the past 30 years and mostly for the good. Still my favorite city on earth.
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Menu del Dia: Madrid

The menu of the day. Its offered pretty much everywhere in Madrid. Usually costs around 10 euros ($11.50). Today, for my 10 euros, I had: 1st course: a succulent plate of Paella Valenciana. 2nd course: grilled mero (grouper) with a tossed salad (oil and vinegar dressing); Spanish style baguette with a bottle of la Mancha wine, dessert of arroz con leche (rice pudding)----everything simple, healthy, and simply delicious. No fuss, no big deal, no paragraph long descriptions of each morsel....oh, yes, they offered me a complimentary aperitif, as well. We, in the US, like to boast of our foodie culture, James Beard awards, on and on---but, unless, you're really prepared to drop some big bucks, you get basic bar food. I'm sorry. That's the way I see it. Greasy, lowest cost ingredients, served with a sneer, don't forget to add 20%, eat fast so we can turn over the table. I've been living off and on in Madrid since 1980 and the food scene just gets better and better. Quietly.
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I've been giving this one a lot of thought recently. A month ago, I had dinner with a friend I hadn't seen for a long time. He surprised me by saying he'd taken up classical guitar. He played a few pieces for me and I was, indeed, impressed by his hard work and his progress. The pieces he played were all studies written by someone I don't know of and were very modern sounding....that is to say, dissonant, not particularly melodic, lacking rhythm or swing in any obvious way. He asked me to play a few and I sight-read them. They were somewhat challenging, very playable, really. I found them unsatisfying. Why? Another of Maestro Albert Bellson's memorable quotes was to "always find the music." Find the music. It seems to me that this is critically important: Find the Music! That can be difficult to do. I remember struggling with a Bach cello suite transcription some years ago---I could play all the notes but they just seemed like notes going nowhere. Then I happened to hear Yoyo Ma (on the radio) playing the very same piece. It just opened up like a flower; the melody was so exquisite, so inevitable, so perfect. After that, it was easy to "find the music." I believe one's performance must embrace the listener; we must share our intention, our understanding, our depth of feeling---this is what gives impact to our art. Approaching a modern, dissonant work presents challenges; it also offers big rewards. We need to fearlessly, intrepidly seek out the music: then, only then,can we put it across.
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SUCHITOTO

i felt good i felt really good a tropical paradise of sweltering beauty suchitoto el salvador la noche gitana green on green on green intense foliage intense midnight most exquisite night of my life de veras la cuca de grana' el chele de cai yeye de salvador artists at their best this evening and i con guitarra rasgueopicadoalzapuatremeloabanicohorquilla somehow deep practice of months n years coalesce into flamenco de categoria puro duro con soniquete sin paja the public on their feet enthusiastic shouting cameras seeking to capture the moment and the moment valid a dream a dream to sustain to empower to endure christmas eve la noche buena hace anyos chervatur kerala india close the circle this is it.
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Albert Bellson

...was already an old man when I began studying classical guitar with him. It must have been around 1974-75. I'd auditioned for him, and been accepted---on condition of 2 1/2 hours practice daily---as a know-nothing 11 year old. I opted for baseball and basketball instead. Finally, years later, I was ready and we began weekly classes. I was a cocky hot-shot electric guitarist with a nice career as "rockstar" developing. I liked to play fast and flashy. And LOUD. Mr. Bellson's constant mantra, to me, at least, was "there's always time for the music; always time for the music." Huh? What? 40 years later, I think I understand what he was saying. Your speed of execution only has validity when each passage is clearly articulated and soulfully communicated. Along with your "sound" (su sello propio, in Spanish) nothing else matters. Clearly, I'm a late bloomer. (written on a bus, nearing San Salvador on 28 February, 2016)
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2016 Is Here and I’m Slackin’

Minneapolis MN The frigid north country. Minus 15 fahrenheit and---what to say about it? A Minnesotan's favorite subject: the Weather! Usually with a capital W. Its serious here! I've been here since around December 1st. Doing 3-5 gigs a week, spending time with my people, doing some teaching, staying in-doors a lot, not surprisingly. My tango band, Rogue Tango, is playing really well. I always look forward to Sundays because we have a long standing date at the Loring Pasta Bar in Minneapolis. A good number of tango dancers come out and they are a wonderful community full of aficion. Last evening, despite super-freezing temps, we had a large crowd and a great time. Sunday mornings I teach a flamenco-guitar technique class. Its a small group of dedicated players and I drill them for 2 hours. The Sacred Seven, I call it: arpegios, tremelos, picados, horquillas, alza puas, rasgueos, and abanico. Lots of fun and very gratifying to see everyone make such progress in achieving their guitar goals. Really, I mostly just share the near-ritualistic exercises and falsetas I use to work on my own technique. As the cliche goes: its a process; the journey more important than the destination. And now, an election year, here in the USA. A pair of diametrically opposed outsiders making big news. Any doubts I'm Feelin the Bern? After being in Guatemala during their recent election, seeing the enthusiasm and activism---now this! I trust that we're not too jaded, as a nation, to actively participate, as did the brave Guatemalans.
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2016 Is Here and I'm Slackin'

Minneapolis MN The frigid north country. Minus 15 fahrenheit and---what to say about it? A Minnesotan's favorite subject: the Weather! Usually with a capital W. Its serious here! I've been here since around December 1st. Doing 3-5 gigs a week, spending time with my people, doing some teaching, staying in-doors a lot, not surprisingly. My tango band, Rogue Tango, is playing really well. I always look forward to Sundays because we have a long standing date at the Loring Pasta Bar in Minneapolis. A good number of tango dancers come out and they are a wonderful community full of aficion. Last evening, despite super-freezing temps, we had a large crowd and a great time. Sunday mornings I teach a flamenco-guitar technique class. Its a small group of dedicated players and I drill them for 2 hours. The Sacred Seven, I call it: arpegios, tremelos, picados, horquillas, alza puas, rasgueos, and abanico. Lots of fun and very gratifying to see everyone make such progress in achieving their guitar goals. Really, I mostly just share the near-ritualistic exercises and falsetas I use to work on my own technique. As the cliche goes: its a process; the journey more important than the destination. And now, an election year, here in the USA. A pair of diametrically opposed outsiders making big news. Any doubts I'm Feelin the Bern? After being in Guatemala during their recent election, seeing the enthusiasm and activism---now this! I trust that we're not too jaded, as a nation, to actively participate, as did the brave Guatemalans.
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TWO Quick Observations

3 days back, in Antigua, Guatemala, at the Condesa Express Cafe: an 85 year old Guatemalan man sat down next to me and said, "this is a great place to sit and watch the pretty chicks, no?" Finished Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume One. Minnesotans are always telling others about the number of famous celebrities, artists, whatever that are from Minnesota. I'm sure Bob Dylan is often mentioned (along with Prince) at the top of the list. On 2nd to last page of the book, Mr Dylan does the same thing, citing Charles Lindbergh, Judy Garland, Eddie Cochran, among others. True Minnesotan!
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Weekend Madness!

Antigua, Guatemala, Sunday evening Beirut. Paris. 2nd Democratic debate. Rhonda Rousey..? Hmmmm And rain in Antigua. I'm staying at the Sin Ventura Hotel, near Parque Central (not the same Parque Central as where all the political intrigue happened earlier; that was in the capital, this is peaceful, little Antigua). It's clean (I like that!). It's noisy (doesn't really bother me). Has an unbelievable 3rd floor open terrace where no-one goes. It has become my office, my practice area, my place to entertain. Incredible view of this picturesque place, surrounded by volcanoes. One of them---Fuego, it is called---has been erupting for 4 days now. Not really too problematic but worth keeping an eye on. Lots and lots of guitar. And that's the way I want it. Even performing means less to me these days---I'm obsessed with playing, practicing; playing things at 1/3 or 1/2 tempo; seeking my SOUND. Apart from that, I am doing a few gigs: with Regina, la Cuca de Grana'; with Miguel Angel, my close friend from Barcelona. Just finished the autobiography of Arthur Rubinstein, legendary pianist. Very inspiring. As a result, I've been watching/listening to a lot of piano on youtube. Chopin mostly. Now reading Bob Dylan's book from 2004, entitled "Chronicles." Not surprisingly, he's an excellent writer. Super insightful stuff! I'm soon to return to Minneapolis to close out the year. Even have a birthday to (try to...)ignore. Christmas-time to me is all about the Nut Cracker---this year my son, Aaron, dances the title role. I am ridiculously proud and plan on taking in several of his shows. I've also been doing some study on ISIS. What to say? I respectfully suggest everyone study up on ISIS. They're not soon to go away. Guatemala continues to grow on me. It is, essentially, a happy place.
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