On 24th November I travelled to Vienna for a special concert by Juan-Garcia Herreros aka Snow Owl and his band. The concert was held at the prestigious ORF RadioKulturhaus and was recorded for radio broadcast which means a lot considering ORF is the national broadcaster of Austria.
The first thing that struck was how huge the stage was! Probably the biggest stage I have seen for some time; and the stage was put to good use as the band comprised of drums, bass, keyboards, saxophone, trumpet, violin, percussion and vocals. What really impressed me was the acoustics of the venue. The sound quality was frankly superb and unusually for me, I got the full effect of live stereo sound with keyboard player Marco Churnchetz to the left of the stage and the horns and violin of the Powell brothers and Alejandra Maria to the right of the stage. Percussionists and drummer were at the back and Snow Owl centre stage with vocalist Verena Berg just left of centre for some numbers. I find so often that gigs I usually attend sound mono with no real separation of instruments, perhaps because stages are so much smaller here.
The concert began just after 8p with a brief intermission at 9.30pm. I originally interviewed Snow Owl in August for the JLR Interview series and have been playing his CDs, so I was aware of the diversity and intensity Snow Owl puts into his music. To describe his sound, I would say there is a combination of latin mixed heavily with contemporary jazz, if that makes any sense. I do not consider it to be latin jazz in the purest sense but more post-modern in the vein of a David Sanchez or Omar Sosa where the horn section is an underpinning factor.
But nothing prepared me for the intensity that Snow Owl brings live, it was quite an experience! It was on the edge and it was great stuff! The audience really appreciated what they were seeing and hearing in front of them. The stand out track for me in the first session was a track called Grappa Groove which was an intoxicating mix of celtic and latin with Alejandra Maria taking the lead on violin, this was quite frankly one of the best pieces of music I have heard for some time and the crowd absolutely loved it, incredibly uplifting music which got everyone moving along and tapping their toes.
After the intermission, the tune entitled Bunuelitos really caught the imagination and is certainly one of the best live performances I have seen this year. The track lasted close on 20 minutes and started with drummer Stoyan Yankoulov playing a Tupan Maker which is like a very large snare drum which he attached around his waist. The band came in for a jam and then Snow Owl took a solo with some deft oversampling. He established a groove, which he oversampled immediately and then laid another groove, which he oversampled, laid another groove, oversampled that! In fact Snow Owl oversampled himself four times before soloing over an array of polyrhythms all playing at the same time, a real tour de force and reminded me of the best Jean-Luc Ponty records of the early 1980s when he would do something similar with computers and the electric violin.
The set ended with Goodnight Resurrection and after hearty applause the band performed an encore where Mamadou Diabate took centre stage playing the Balafon (similar to a Vibraphone) and duelled with Snow Owl. A great way to end a great concert and a triumph for Snow Owl and his band debuting at such a prestigious venue.
A band as good as this has to be checked out and I would recommend anyone getting the chance to see Snow Owl play live to take it. I would also love to see Snow Owl play in London (or anywhere in Britain) and I don’t see why that shouldn’t happen in 2015. With the right promotion I am sure Snow Owl will be a big success over here playing a brand of latin and contemporary jazz which people love to hear.