Music : Alberto de Almar brings flamenco to Martha's Vineyard
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Audience members at a recent show at The Pit Stop in Oak Bluffs were treated to an impressive performance by a guitar virtuoso and flamboyant showman.
Flamenco musician Alberto de Almar wowed the audience with a talent that makes any crowd-dazzling, rock god guitar solo pale in comparison. Starting off with a traditional flamenco tune, he produced a seemingly impossible barrage of staccato notes from his specially designed acoustic guitar, enthralling the audience with his speed and dexterity.
After concluding his opening number, Mr. de Almar, dressed in a flowing silk shirt, chunky silver jewelry, and Spanish cowboy boots, his long curly hair spilling down his back, told the crowd, "That's the only song I know. It took me 40 years to learn it. I'll be back in another 40 years with another one."
The crowd laughed along with the performer but, considering the complexity of the performance, it's not implausible that he could have been speaking the truth. Thankfully, Mr. de Almar has a large repertoire of flamenco, as well as electronic psychedelia instrumentals. Again he will showcase both styles, along with a band of local musicians, at a concert this Friday at the Capawock Theatre, and future shows at Island libraries.
A recent Vineyard transplant, Mr. de Almar has an impressive background that incorporates the two disparate genres of music that he focuses on.
While in college in the 70s, the guitarist sent a recording of original psychedelic tunes to the late eclectic rock legend Frank Zappa and was invited out to Los Angeles to join his group. However, Mr. de Almar felt obliged to finish school and delayed his trip for four years. Although he never played with Zappa, he did end up working with a number of the other band members.
Flamenco music came later in the guitarist's career. When he was first given a guitar at age 11, he was originally inspired by rock and roll.
Mr. de Almar was born in Miami to Costa Rican-born parents. His maternal grandfather was from Barcelona. Although his first guitar came from Spain — a gift from an aunt — like most teens in the 60s, young Mr. de Almar was drawn to the music of The Beatles and other early rock groups. He took lessons for a couple of years, learning the basic chords, but then got into jazz fusion music and started developing his own technique.
While at the University of Florida, where he was studying to be a pharmacist, Mr. de Almar became interested in classical music. He learned to play Bach on his own, and taught himself to read music. Mr. de Almar wrote an electronic guitar piece called "Bachamole," which he describes as "what Bach would be playing if he were alive today." He will exhibit his classical influence in the upcoming show by performing this, as well as some opera arias.
Once in L.A., Mr. de Almar became immersed in the psychedelic and jazz fusion scenes. However, through his cousin, flamenco/fusion crossover pioneer Jorge Strunz, Mr. de Almar learned an appreciation for the music of his heritage and, after studying flamenco guitar with friends in L.A., he went to Spain and toured all over the country for three years with some of the masters.
Returning to L.A. in the mid 90s, Mr. de Almar established the Flamecno World Music Society with the help of a few well-known Hollywood actors. Yvette Mimieux was particularly supportive. The society brought world class flamenco players to L.A. During this time, Mr. de Almar developed technical skills and a flair for spectacle that will be evident at the upcoming show. The performance will incorporate video and a light show.
From 2001 through 2008, Mr. de Almar toured with smooth jazz/new age legend Keiko Matsui. With the world renowned composer/pianist, he travelled all over the world, including stops in Russia, the Ukraine, Siberia, Africa, and Japan, where the group toured six times. Playing at large festivals of up to 70,000 people, Mr. de Almar had the opportunity to meet some of the legends of jazz music.
Back in L.A., he became frustrated with the competitive nature of the music business there and left to seek his fortune elsewhere. He has spent the last few years visiting friends and family members and exploring other areas of the country including Ft. Lauderdale, New Orleans, and parts of Ohio. In Cleveland he was invited to play at a big outdoor concert opening up for the group Gaelic Storm — a Celtic band that was featured in the 1997 blockbuster film "Titanic."
Through a musician friend from L.A. who spends time on the Vineyard, Mr. de Almar was introduced to James Shephard of Faith's Seafood Shack in Aquinnah. Mr. Shephard was interested in learning to play guitar and was also looking for someone to provide live entertainment at Faith's.
Mr. de Almar moved here two months ago and has played twice at The Pit Stop. He will be a regular performer at Faith's Seafood Shack and hopes to find other venues interested in hosting his unique brand of music.
For this Friday's show, described as a world music concert, Mr. de Almar will perform a mix of musical styles including flamenco, electronica, classical, fusion jazz, and opera. Some of the selections will be instrumentals from his three CDs.
Mr. de Almar has recruited a large group of musicians to accompany him on keyboards, percussion, and strings. He notes that, along with the laser show and psychedelic visuals, there will be some surprise movie clips in between songs. A meet and greet reception will follow the performance.
Mr. de Almar will also play flamenco guitar and give a brief lecture about its history and techniques at the West Tisbury Library on Thursday, May 3, at 5 pm.
World Music Concert with Alberto de Almar, 8 to 10 pm, Friday, April 27, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8 in advance; $10 at the door. Premium seating: $12 in advance; $15 at the door. Tickets are available at Galadriel's in Oak Bluffs and aboveground Records in Edgartown.