Bolero improvised

Money Glitz | Bonnie Chen 4 Mar 2019

Although French composer Maurice Ravel was fascinated with jazz, he probably could not have imagined his works could go that far!

The melody of Bolero is no stranger to even non-music lovers unlike many other Ravel's works. Regarded as a music pioneer, Ravel has inspired many jazz musicians over the years.

The Marco Mezquida trio from Barcelona gave a pleasant surprise to the audience through its "Ravel's dreams" performance.

The concert was among one of the many full-house performances of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Among the members of the audience were also children, which is quite rare for a jazz concert.

The three young musicians' rendition of Pavane pour une infante defunte, Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Bolero was more rhythmic rather than melodic with the energy they poured out.

With the ethnic and even rock music elements added to the pieces, the trio's version presented more dimensions of Ravel's works than their jazz fellows.

Ravel's classical pieces were re-arranged by pianist Mezquida, who seemed to be playing magic with the piano as he can play unconventional sounds, or even rhythms that is beyond one's imagination.

Mesquida is the son of a Swiss engineer father and a Basque mother.

Growing up in France, Ravel's diverse background prompted him to compose unorthodox pieces like the Bolero. The marching rhythm of the Bolero may remind one of machinery sounds during Ravel's time, the turn of the century.

The composer's father was also an accomplished inventor who had invented a steam-powered automobile, a circular water track with artificial current, which was a forerunner of jacuzzi, in addition to his direction of construction of railways. That may explain Ravel's strange hobby of collecting mechanical artifacts, automats and tin birds.

Probably it was due to such a multi-faceted background, Ravel was more open to new ideas than his peers. When he visited North America in 1928, Ravel watched performances of Duke Ellington, Fred Astaire, and George Gershwin. He was captivated by drums, the percussive use of the double bass, and the glissandi of the brasses, which are rare in classical music.

A lifelong bachelor, Ravel's private life remains an enigma and that probably makes his works open to wider interpretation.

Ravel's little-known life led the three musicians to wonder about his dreams. They repeated phrases of Ravel's popular melodies in turn with their own instruments in various speed and style.

As an atypical pianist, Mezquida sometimes plugged the strings of the piano as if playing a harp or a banjo; muted the strings sometimes making the instrument sound more percussive; hit the bells hanging on the piano; and captured the vibrating sound of the tambourine placed on the piano's strings.

Moscow-born Cuban cellist Martin Melendez was deeply engaged in the performance and his facial expressions reflected this as if he was acting in a drama. In addition to jazz and Cuban music, he was also inspired by funk and flamenco. Besides using the bow, he fiddled the strings like playing a guitar, beat the body of the cello like a percussionist.

Aleix Tobias, the percussionist, cleverly inserted Bolero's rhythm, while his fellow players performed Le Tombeau de Couperin. Exotic Iberian percussion, that gives African and Arabic flavors were added to the Ravel pieces.

Also spectacular was Mezquida's piano solo concert the same day afternoon. The audience was taken on a dramatic journey during his 40-minute improvised piece, which he said was inspired by the diversity and vibrancy of Hong Kong, which he explored on foot during his stay.

He opened with an easy-listening melody, and the listeners hardly expected to be carried to a breathless tune, which was achieved by the prodigious pianist's fingers flying across octaves, plugging and muting of the strings with energy. But then they were brought to a peaceful state again, later on.

Driven by Mezquida's notes, the emotions of the audience rode a roller coaster.

He subtly inserted Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" intro, some Moorish sound, and even a sense of Zen when he struck the bells. That is like a collage ofthe Occidental and the Oriental elements that could be found from his home country Spain all the way to this part of the world.

Not only was the piano an instrument for him to capture the audience, it could be as playful as a toy, too. During the encore, Mezquida performed a piece he wrote for a one-year-old daughter of a friend and the notion of energy in previous pieces disappeared.

A classically-trained pianist, Mezquida describes his performance the result of 24 years of piano learning. He had been playing the piano since he was seven years old. He also plays organ.

Mezquida is inspired by a diverse range of music including those of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Bach, Scriabin, Renaissance pieces from Monteverdi, Flamenco, and so on.

Although his music inspired listeners to imagine, he says he did not think too much but concentrate on playing as he needs to make a lot of decisions while improvising. "My performance is sometimes intense and deep. I try to sing the whole tune and explore the yin and yang. Some parts are very organic, you can feel the energy of the sound."

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