A five-time Grammy-nominated, German-born Zen monk and musician known for his flamenco-influenced music, is coming to Ventura County. Ottmar Liebert and his band Luna Negra will be performing at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on Feb. 16. While there are hints of Spain’s influence in his melodies, Liebert’s soothing guitar sounds meander through a variety of unique paths and rhythms.
It all began in 1990 with his Nouveau Flamenco album that went platinum. The description was pooh-poohed by flamenco artists and purists; Liebert has explained that he had to come up with a name and felt, at the time, that this sobriquet was the closest to what he was doing. So be it. Since then, he has toured the world many times, released more than 25 albums, garnered 38 gold and platinum certifications and explored other sounds and musical influences.
In a phone interview from his home in Santa Fe, I asked if he was comfortable with the Nouveau Flamenco description or if he’d come up with a new “label” for his music.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” the artist, who recently turned 59, replied. “When we still had record stores, sometimes my albums would be found under New Age, Spanish or World music. I don’t care what it’s called, as long as people can find it!”
He then cited his 2015 album, Waiting n Swan, which mixes up Bob Marley tunes with his own compositions, drawing from reggae rhythms and flamenco.
“Rhythm tangos and rhumba were brought to Spain from the Caribbean by Spanish sailors,” he noted. “In Spain it became flamenco; in Jamaica, reggae; and salsa in Cuba.” Liebert has a new album coming out in the spring of this year. The Complete Santa Fe Sessions will include pieces recorded in 2001 featuring a large band with horns and several percussionists.
For this weekend’s show, listeners can expect to hear a variety of rhythms included in a mix of melodies from almost three decades of older and newer compositions.
“We’ve been around for a long time — every year we try to rotate things around and play things people haven’t heard at all or for a while,” Liebert said.
Like the “slow food” movement, Liebert has called his most recent effort “slow music,” which also happens to be the title of his last album (2016’s Slow).
The Spanish influence can certainly be heard on this album of 17 tracks, including three short, 23-second pieces titled “Haiku” (1, 2 and 3, respectively).
“I enjoy being by myself,” the self-proclaimed hermit said. “Some people — especially young musicians — think that being on social media is really important for their careers. I think it’s a big mistake. In 20 years we will look back and think this was a ridiculous idea. These things can suck you in.”
Liebert plays both acoustic and electric guitar, but will be playing acoustic-only for this concert with his Luna Negra band members: longtime bassist Jon Gagen and percussionist/drummer Chris Steele, who has been performing with Liebert for the past six years.
His albums have been nominated for Grammys in the New Age category, but I was curious when I read that Liebert cited Miles Davis as an influence — who couldn’t be further afield! He admitted it was not so much the jazz trumpeter’s music as the way Miles played and viewed himself as an artist.
“We opened for him in Seattle in 1990, which was quite an honor,” Liebert recalled, “The lonely tone without vibrato really spoke to me. He was not a flashy player. He picked his statements really exquisitely and was not afraid to do something different and surprise everyone. He was also a painter. I’ve been doing photography for decades and relate to the visual arts.”
For all you lovers out there, this is the kind of music that makes you want to do it “despacito” (slowly); it’s pretty, soothing, contemplative stuff. So sit back, have a drink, fill your tummies, and perhaps sneak a kiss and let the music of Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra carry you away on gossamer wings.
Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra perform on Friday, Feb. 16, at 9 p.m. at The Canyon, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. For tickets and more information, call 818-879-5016 or visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com/canyon-agoura-hills.