Ottmar Liebert's "three-oh-five," released in April, is a surprising diversion from the guitar player's contemporary, acoustic flamenco. It's as surprising as his first album, "Nouveau Flamenco," a fusion of flamenco and pop released in 1990 that became a two-time platinum seller in the U.S.
"Three-oh-five" is a "new brew," Liebert says, that combines elements from flamenco, funk, R&B, rock and pop. It's the ultimate Ottmar Liebert in that it holds many of the influences that formed him as a guitar player.
"Wah-Wah Watson's rhythm guitar playing with Herbie Hancock in the '70s, his playing with The Temptations ("Papa Was a Rolling Stone") and his playing with Marvin Gaye; Nile Rodgers and Paul Jackson Jr. playing rhythm guitar on countless '70s recordings; and Santana and Jeff Beck's melodic soloing were some of the reasons I got into guitar playing in the first place," Liebert stated in a press release.
The album features Liebert on acoustic and electric guitars, Jon Gagan on acoustic upright and electric bass guitars and keys, along with Chris Steele on drums and J.Q. Whitcomb on trumpet. Wah-wah pedals and synths enhance the sonic landscapes.
The idea for the "three-oh-five" came one morning while Liebert was thinking about some of the music of the '70s and imagining how Watson would play a flamenco rhythm with a 12/8 time signature, he said during a telephone interview.
"Jon, Chris and I didn't decide to do it," he said. "I'm not that democratic. Whatever goes into my head happens. I even pulled out a wah-wah pedal to start playing, and that was the cornerstone of the album."
"Three-oh-five" was released shoulder-to-shoulder with "Bare Wood," a compilation of instrumentals that Liebert recorded between 2002 and 2012. For "Bare Wood," Liebert deleted all electric or electronic instrumental tracks from the original recordings, leaving nothing but flamenco guitar and cajon. He added flamenco guitar parts, and Gagan recorded new upright acoustic bass tracks for each piece. What emerges is the essence, the soul, the bare wood of the music.
"There is not much I can add to that," Liebert said in the press release. "It's a very natural, organic sound with a nice, fat acoustic bass. An antidote to 'three-oh-five' perhaps, or a companion album. One is limited to two or three acoustic instruments, and the other is pretty much anything that feels right and sounds right."
Liebert and his band — Jon Gagan and Chris Steele — will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, at Pear Blossom Park, off Bartlett Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, at The Commons in downtown Medford. The free concert is part of Medford Parks' summer music series.
After more than two decades and six nominations in the New Age category of the Grammy Awards, Liebert's last album, "Dune," was categorized Instrumental Pop by the powers-that-be of the organization.
"I thought maybe I should actually try to record an instrumental pop album," he said. "I don't like a lot of the typical guitar things. Playing guitar, just as piano, you don't have to come up for air like you do with a wind instrument or even a violin when you reach the end of the bow. You can play on and on and on. It's important to find an organic phrasing. I don't just listen to guitar players, but accordion players or singers, anything that is a little different."
"I'm excited to be playing music from the two albums and touring with this band," Liebert says. "Earlier this year, we received good responses from audiences on a five-week tour of the East Coast."
The first set of the Medford concert will showcase Gagan on an upright bass that is more than 100 years old, and Steele on cajon. The second set will feature different instrumentation, with Gagan switching to electric guitars and Steele playing a hybrid drum kit that utilizes hand percussion and percussion played with sticks. Each set will include a mix of music from the new albums and from Liebert's repertoire.