Ottmar Liebert likes both tradition and going against the grain

Published on April 4th, 2021

By Jim Dail

There’s always a lot of talk in jazz about concept albums. Perhaps the album is a dedication to a style of music, or about tragedy or romance.
For Ottmar Liebert, there is no such thing as a concept of what an album should sound like but rather a road map.
“It’s not as complex of an idea as a concept,” said the guitarist who will perform Sunday at Thornton Winery. “It’s sort of like a painter picking out a color or whether a photo should be color or black and white.”
Liebert has made his name with flamenco guitar, an instrument that he enjoys because it has a lot of dynamic range.
“It’s really a difficult instrument to record,” he said. “If you listen to the ways a lot of guitars were recorded in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the sound was horrific.”
For Liebert his recordings seem to have come from a purer place, not necessarily a long, drawn out plan.
“I did a little recording each month and put some things on the listening lounge,” he said. “I got a lot of requests to turn it into an album and the concept evolved that way.”
Granted, the flamenco style wasn’t his first choice.
“First time I heard it was in the early ‘70s,” he said. “A friend invited me over and we listened to an Al di Meola album and there were several guitars on it. I said ‘I’m not sure I liked the one guitar but who is the other guy.’ I loved how it sounded.”
He didn’t immediately switch styles, but when he got to Santa Fe, N.M., he began to study with a guitarist who played in Spain and brought the style with him.
“I played electric before that and in a band that actually opened for Ministry,” he said. “Once I was in New Mexico it really changed.”
It was a concert in the mid-70s that would have a profound influence on his career.
“I think the thing that really influenced me was seeing Carlos Santana in Cologne,” he said. ”Earth Wind and Fire was on the bill with him and really blew him away. The rhythms were really different. Santana’s band came back out and there was a huge jam. I got a feel for the horn sound.”
Part of what drives Liebert is the traditional, purist nature of the instrument. He’s even come to learn more about his own style.
“I’ve been playing with a guitarist Rahim AlHaj from the Bagdad Institute and it is very interesting,” he said. “When I play something traditional, he says you know that’s Arabic. He plays the Ud (oud), which is the traditional guitar. The lute derived from it and the guitar derived from the lute.”
Obviously, Liebert is not  just a musician, but holds a vast appreciation for all types of music.
“I’ve had a variety in my music,“ he said. “I do solo tours which I enjoy, but now I’m touring with a quartet. Now it is about the full sound, the melodic connection that multiple musicians make.”
While he appreciates what technology has been able to do for the business, he also has a lot of caveats.
“I’ve heard music recorded for next to nothing that sounds amazing,” he said. “It takes very little money these days to record yourself. But I think there’s a lack of really good musicianship and caretaking of the business.”
Part of it is the decline of record stores and coverage.
“The next big thing I think is going to be curators of music, sources you can trust,” he said. “At one time the salespeople at record stores like Tower Records knew what I had bought before and made good suggestions about what I might like.  Now it’s different.”
His concern is that jazz and instrumental music could be going the same direction as pop”
“Magazine always come now in a very specific genre,“ he said. “There’s nothing there that covers a lot of different styles. It’s very similar to radio now.”
To him that hurts the fan the most.
“For people, I want things to go across the grain and there is not much out there,” he said. “I guess that’s why I’m always trying to experience different things with my music.”


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