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Renaud Garcia-Fons' New Album Bridges The Mediterranean

Renaud Garcia-Fons is known among jazz fans as an ear-popping virtuoso of the acoustic bass. The sounds he conjures from his five-string instrument have won him admirers around the world. But for his latest project, the Spanish-French musician says he wanted to concentrate on composition -- specifically the sounds of the Mediterranean -- while searching for a bridge between the music of the East and the West.

Garcia-Fons says the initial thinking behind his new album, Mediterranees, was not to compose music for a band, but to make a concept album inspired by music across the Mediterranean and the search for a common identity. That process took him back to his childhood.

"When I was in family, I was of course listening to Spanish music," he says. "But when I grew up in Paris, I had a chance to listen to many different music from north of Africa, which is Mediterranean. After that, I had really a passion for all music coming from Middle East, from Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt."

Garcia-Fons says all of these different styles of music share common elements, and that he wanted to find the connections.

"We have some bridges, but also, of course, each tradition is unique," he says. "The sense of this music was also to try to establish some bridges between."

Garcia-Fons' exploration begins in Andalucia, in the south of Spain, with a piece called "Aljamiado" -- its title a reference to the Spanish language from the time when the region was ruled by the Moors.

"For me, it's a good illustration of the union between Occident and Orient," Garcia-Fons says. His music moves from West to East, from Spain to the South of France, Italy and Greece, to the northern tip of the Mediterranean.

"So all the first pieces are more on the 'occidental way,' and then the big change starts in the piece called 'Bosphore,' " he says. "Because the trip arrive finally on the Bosphorus, so we reach the border with the Orient and start more Oriental influences."

A Unique Virtuoso

Unlike some of Garcia-Fons' previous recordings, the new album is not centered on his five-string acoustic bass, but rather on composition. Nevertheless, Yatrika Shah-Rais -- music director at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where Garcia-Fons performed recently with his quartet -- says Garcia-Fons is a virtuoso.

"This is a world-class musician that deserves to be truly acknowledged for what he does," Shah-Rais says. "He's unique in every sense of the word. He's unique in his approach to compositions, to his music. He's unique in his technique. He's unique in the way that he has revolutionized the bass, and simply he has a fantastic band."

Garcia-Fons says he's always been intrigued with the notion that the roots of Western music come from the East. And he says that thread is present, not just in Western Europe, but also in the Americas.

"This is a fascinating point for me. And this is what also I really appreciate in all American music, from South to North, is that we can feel this influence from the Mediterranean area," Garcia-Fons says. "I think maybe the common relative is baroque music. I heard that many baroque musicians find some codex, for example, in Mexico, so I think this was one of the bridge for the music to come here and to meet other culture, other people."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Betto Arcos
Betto Arcos is a freelance music journalist. He writes stories about music from around the world, with an emphasis on Latin America. He has been a contributor to NPR programming since 2009, when he began reviewing music for All Things Considered on the weekends.