Franc O’Shea is a UK-based electric bassist and composer who has immersed himself in the diverse worlds of Flamenco, jazz and Middle Eastern/North African ethnic music. As a bassist, O’Shea is an unabashed acolyte of Jaco Pastorius: he plays with the same voice-like tone, galloping articulation and unfettered technical prowess.
Not content, however, to make a career in jazz-fusion by merely revisiting the sound of a legendary performer, O’Shea strikes out on his own in a very significant way with his second CD, "Alkimia." For this recording, he has enlisted some heavyweights from the Spanish Flamenco scene to bring his concept to life. Flutist Jorge Pardo, percussionist Rubem Dantas and guitarist Juan Manuel Canizares are solo artists in their own right and have worked extensively with the likes of Chick Corea and Paco de Lucia.
Neither a flashy gypsy guitar showdown, nor an insipid New Age noodle-fest, "Alkimia" is a viable and intelligent cross-breeding of modern Flamenco and fusion-y jazz that goes beyond similar offerings by established artists such as Strunz & Farah, Ottmar Liebert, Manolo Sanlucar and Juan Martin. To my ears, "Alkimia" is less about the guitar per se and more about the improvisational richness and inherent beauty of Spanish/Moorish music and that’s why it succeeds. The melodies are lovingly crafted and passionately played, the complex and detailed rhythms are built up using multiple percussion lines on cajon, congas, various frame drums and shakers. The improvisations, mostly by O’Shea, Pardo, Canizares and violinist Benjamin Sarfas (a real find!), are uniformly excellent.
As a result, "Alkimia" bypasses the overwrought sentimentality and insubstantial flashiness that plagues most forays into flamenco jazz.