Artist Spotlight: Pedro Soler & Gaspar Claus (ft. Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner)Posted by Joseph Sannicandro
This summer in Paris I was lucky to receive a generous invitation from the InFiné label to attend a small showcase by Pedro Soler & Gaspar Claus. The label that specializes in “easy music for the hard to please” has released some phenomenal records in recent years, generally techno-inspired and featuring classically trained musicians. (Highlights include the debut by Aufgang, featuring two grand pianos and house music beats, and Arandel‘s In D, among many others.) One might be skeptical when first confronted with Soler & Gaspar, as “next generation flamenco” seems removed from InFiné’s regular MO. Put that skepticism aside and approach their music with an open mind, however, and you’ll be a convert. Seeing them perform, and improvise live, convinced me of the importance of their music, a form of communication that can only exist between father and son, across genres and expectation.
This father-son duo just released their incredible debut album Barlande via InFiné on August 30th, which you can check out streaming in its entirety at NPR. The idea for the father-son recording project began with an improvised set at the first InFiné summer workshop at la Carrière, in which the duo performed in an abandoned quarry. Two years later, we have Barlande as a document to their incredible musical dialogue. The album was recorded in Brooklyn, and includes Bryce Dessner (The National, Clogs) and Sufjan Stevens prominently on the closing song “Encuentro en Brooklyn.”
They’ve made a name for themselves playing their unique, mostly improvised music live, but their debut album will no doubt broaden their fan base. As individuals, neither is new to the scene, however, and their histories play an important role in the nature of their music and the context by which it is received. Pedro Soler was born in 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, and grew-up in the French city of Toulouse amongst the Spanish Republicans in exile. He studied traditional, what was at that time already considered “old fashioned,” flamenco, emphasizing dynamics and sonority over the emotionless virtuosity that had become prominent at the time.
His son Gaspar Claus, born in 1983, grew up in a different world, studying cello in conservatory far removed from Spain’s great traditions. He dropped out of the conservatoire to pursue the cello beyond the confines of the academy, honing his textural, timbrel approach to cello through playing avant-garde and improvisational music, as well as electronic (InFiné’s artists Joakim and Rone) and traditional music. Gaspar has a flat in Paris, but has been busy with his own work, touring around the globe. He is friend’s with the guerilla music filmmaker Vincent Moon, who featured an impromptu trip and performance between father and son in a classic episode of La Blogoteque‘s Take Away Show. Dedicated to the German-Jewish philosopher/critic/essayist Walter Benjamin, who died on the French-Spanish border attempting to escape the Nazis, this wonderful video documents the early sparks between father and son amidst a location with both historical and personal importance.
Barlande is a cohesive entity despite the variety of influences and cultures that went into its creation. Its 8 tracks straddle these divides, between instruments, between father and son, between cultures, interlocking and breaking apart, finding common ground and complementing one another. The tracks have a narrative quality, if an unconventional one, and are lovely in the background or, even better, for careful, contemplative listening. Live, the duo’s improvisations take on a different role, perhaps more akin to the classical presentation of flamenco, as the performers commune in a (sometimes aggressive) musical conversation while the audience listens carefully, attuned to the wondrous simultaneity of the moment of creation and reception.
The Paris showcase, hosted at Devialet, was also designed to showcase the company’s high-end audio equipment. Soler & Claus’s music is well suited for contemplative listening in such an environment, and both the live performance and the post-show playback demonstrate the rich colors that emerge in the dance between guitar and cello’s sonorities. I suspect, like myself, most of our readers have little knowledge of flamenco, but Barlande transcends genre, and will endear itself to any listener who enjoys beautiful, innovative music. Another gem from InFiné.
Photos by Thomas Sauvage