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updated 6:20 PM UTC, Mar 6, 2017

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Lilting Melodies, Ballads and Flamenco

I first met Javier Colina in one of those smoked filled jazz nightclubs in Madrid, don't remember if it was Cafe Central, Sala Clamores or the old Whiskey and Jazz. What is certain is I first heard him with Jerry Gonzalez, my friend the trumpet and conga player who has achieved iconic status in Spain as one of the finest jazz, or more specifically Latin Jazz, players on the Iberian peninsula.
    In the States, on his home turf in the Bronx, Gonzalez was famous for performing with his brother Andy Gonzalez on bass with such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie and McCoy Tyner. The Gonzalez brothers formed the legendary 'Conjunto Libre' with Manny Oquendo replicating the original 'trombanga' sound they performed with Eddie Palmieri. Jerry also became popular and had a few hits with his Ft. Apache Band. In Spain, Colina fit right in with Gonzalez's group and it seemed as if he were born to the idiom. He added the 'fondo' flamenco and packed a tight swing with his bass playing. Jerry created unique musical groups in Madrid such as the 'Comando de la Clave' and 'Los Piratas del Flamenco'.
    I last saw Colina at the Baluarte Concert Hall in Pamplona in August of 2015. He was there with an all star jazz group that included Juan Pardo maestro on the wind instruments (who visited DC this past November), Gonzalez on his classic muted horn and high pitched conga and the Cuban pianist Javier Massó, 'Caramelo'. It was at a flamenco/jazz festival that included, among others. the Carmona brothers of Ketama fame.
    Josemi Carmona was an original member of "Ketama" along with the Carmona brothers Antonio and Juan Miguel. The legendary Ketama, a pioneer of the flamenco fusion idiom began as a trio, featuring brothers Antonio and Juan Miguel Carmona and their cousin, Josemi. Ketama was one of the leading groups of the "new flamenco" movement. Since releasing their self-titled debut album in 1985, the trio directed the evolution of flamenco as a world-savvy music. Their albums fuse flamenco with salsa, Brazilian, reggae, pop, funk, jazz, and hip-hop influences. Folk Roots wrote, "harmonies, masterful melodies, exquisite pace and timing deeply satisfying ....reaching points of the brain/body most music snoozes past."
    The three members of Ketama represent the fourth generation of a musical family that traces back to guitarist Ico Habichuela. During their 20 years together they shared stages with Paco de Lucia, Enrique Morente and Camarón De La Isla. After building their reputation with their virtuosic playing and vocal harmonies, they went on to play with Celia Cruz, Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, and Michel Camilo. Ketama secured their fame as opening act for Prince and the Rolling Stones.
    Javier Colina and Josemi bring a unique brand of harmony and jazz, a combination of lilting melodies, ballads and flamenco roots with the contrapuntal improvisations of a jazz master on the bass. This intriguing duo will be delighting fans of this music on Thursday, March 9, 7:30 to 9 pm at the Former Residence of the Ambassador of Spain at 2801 16th St. NW. To purchase tickets or seek more information go to: https://www.spainculture.us/city/washington-dc/josemi-carmona-javier-colina-de-cerca/

Mexican Pepper Spray

The prolific Mexican playwright, Emilio Carballido's, "I Too Speak of the Rose", a forceful montage of realistic and dreamlike sequences wrapped around a multi-layered plot, recently had its Washington DC debut at GALA Theatre where it will be performed through February 26th. It is a fine example of his theatrical legacy and one of his most popular works. In as much as it is stylistically and thematically central to his vision and message it is a key component of modern Mexican theatre, studied and performed with frequency across the country.
Carballido's work is known for its soliloquies and asides, its multi-textured plots and its social realism juxtaposed in this play with dreamlike, magical elements. Indeed, an abstract, intellectual form of social realism permeates his writing. "... Rose" is no different. Through the prism of an accidental train wreck the actors explore all the 'alternate facts' created by the event and how various sectors of Mexican society view the tragedy.
    A pair of teenagers, ably played by Sharon Desiree (Toña) and Steven Soto (Paolo), precipitate a tragic train wreck that repeats itself throughout the play followed by various interpretations of the result that highlight the teenager's poverty, insecurity, amorality and/or sexual naiveté. All these interpretations are meant to be a statement about contemporary Mexican reality. Weaved in and out of the play is a Medium performed by Julieta Egurrola, who functions at times as a prophetic witch, Greek chorus, bad omen or vestal virgin. Her soliloquies and asides are at times philosophic, mesmerizing and sometimes downright frightening, especially when combined with the booming, crashing sounds of a train wreck which had audiences bouncing in their seats from the sheer intensity of the decibels, as if the audience were being lambasted with Mexican pepper spray!
    Hugo Medrano has returned to direct what appears to be one of his favorite authors. In as much as the piece clearly tries to explain something about the state of Mexican society and the problems and contradictions that exist there, it can be said that this is a purview of the conditions of our current political reality. Nothing is at it seems and everything can be converted or, more accurately perverted, to whatever viewpoint you wish to consider real.  
    Performed Thursdays through Sundays, click on galatheatre for further details.

Joselito Casa de Comidas new Spanish restaurant on Capitol Hill

There is a new Spanish restaurant on Capitol Hill with the original title of, "Joselito; Casa de Comidas". It is a sparse, airy space with simple marble tables and first hand view of Pennsylvania Ave. The owner is Javier Candon who also owns SER Restaurant in Arlington. The concept is a menu of Spanish staples served in a nouveau cuisine style. Spain's rich culinary scene has given way to a great many modern variations of typical Spanish food. At Joselito there are Sardines in a frothy cream sauce and 'boquerones en vinagre' (small sardines in vinegar) covered in a tapenade which includes mushrooms and olives. We also tasted a very modern version of 'huevos rotos' (broken eggs) served in Spain with french fries, here with grilled baby shrimp.

    The basics are pretty good. the smoked Iberian ham ("Jamon de Bellota") shaved thin and served with bread sticks was exquisite and the lamb chops in a wine sauce were superb (albeit a bit overpriced). The new space, less than one block from Eastern Market, just opened a few weeks ago and promises to be a very popular Capitol Hill destination. We enjoyed the wait staff although were well aware that, having just opened, there are still kinks to be worked out. We ordered from the extensive tapa menu and wanted to save the lamb for last and yet it was served the other way around. We had to ask them to keep the lamb waiting. The fresh vegetable tapa of raw asparagus, cauliflower and squash came with a green sauce that had very little taste, would have been better without it.

    Nevertheless, it was quite a culinary experience and adds to the variety of top quality, first class dining choices for Spanish restaurants in DC. We wish "Joselito..." well and promise to return for another meal. Look them up at www.joselitodc.com.

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