Pablo Martín Caminero: The creation of the flamenco double bass

FLAMENCO BIËNNALE NL – The Dutch Flamenco Festival brings two weeks of free live flamenco streams from Sevilla and Madrid to your home. The opening show ‘Al Toque’ will feature double bass player Pablo Martín Caminero. Susanne Zellinger interviewed him. About pandemic relaxation, the connection between flamenco and jazz and how to improvise.

Nights in the lively Viennese jazz scene

Pablo Martín Caminero was not born into a family of musicians (1974, Vitoria Gasteiz). Growing up, he heard mostly classical music like Tchaikovsky. On family trips “Los Romeros de la Puebla” were played in the car, a band from La Puebla del Río known for their ‘Sevillanas’ at every village festivity. Pablo had music class as a child but not playing an instrument: he was interested in music notation. It wasn’t until he was 12 that he started strumming the guitar and playing in the so-called garage bands with his friends. He taught himself the bass guitar and soon switched to the double bass and went to Vienna for five years to study with Herbert Mayr at the University of Music and Performing Arts. During the day, he was, as he says, a well-behaved student and played with various orchestras; his nights were spent at various jam sessions in the lively Viennese jazz scene.
After graduating, he went to Madrid and from then on he dedicated himself entirely to music: as a musician, composer and also as a producer. His favorite toy is his new Apple Mac and the program Logic Audio, with which he records everything that moves and makes a sound.
He tried out everything and was fascinated by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. He feels that their music is authentic and personal, not as conformist as many of today’s jazz musicians, whose recordings make it hard to distinguish what has been manipulated and what has not. Back then, everything was true.

Caminero Trio foto Simone Fratini
Life with ‘the flamencos’

His ticket into the flamenco world was a stroke of luck, he says, because in the beginning he was only known as “the guy that plays with Gerardo Núñez”. For many years he worked with Gerardo and El Cepillo, the trio was constantly on tour. Life with the ‘flamencos’ proofed to be exciting and entertaining. He got to know many of the great flamenco musicians and, more importantly, they all knew him. Since then, flamenco has not let him go/ He has played in the most diverse productions, one of the most beautiful was certainly “Afectos” with Rocío Molina and La Tremendita, an intimate chamber play which was incredibly successful and which finally allowed him to shine alone with his double bass.
He is a very versatile musician, composed for commercials, created soundtracks for feature films, works with contemporary dancers and created a piece for the Ballet Nacional. As a jazz musician, he plays in a wide variety of formations, and on 30 January he and his trio will present the new CD “Al Toque” Saturday January 30th at the live streaming edition of the Flamenco Biennale Nederland.

At the beginning of the pandemic you seemed quite happy, you had time, you could concentrate on your work, has that changed since then?
– The lockdown has been quite a drama for almost everybody. Personally I have tried to make the best of the situation. Luckily I don´t live in the city and I´m very well surrounded by trees and a beautiful landscape, that obviously helps. A good thing for me about the lockdown has been to realize how crazy my life was in terms of constant pressure (nice pressure though) of traveling, trying to do my best in every concert, looking for new paths in my musical journey… the fact of not having immediate responsibilities in the months to come has made me psychologically relaxed and I have a refreshed view about life in general. I can say that when my activities will start again I’ll feel more relaxed and I think that I´m able to enjoy every step a bit more.

Why did you decide to live in the countryside?
– I’ve been thinking about moving to the countryside for many years. I was born and raised in a rural environment and I guess I have kind of missed that ever since. The opportunity showed up and I took it. Instinct can be a powerful ally, and in this case it was. I did not think too much about it and I can say it has been the right decision for me. My impression was that I could enjoy my time more by having a project like starting a new life in a new beautiful environment. It’s good for my health, for my relations, for my creative life. It’s better in general.

Where is the connection between flamenco and jazz for you? What do they have to do with each other, what makes them suitable for a connection?
– In my opinion the term “jazz” has evolved and transcended from the music genre to a way of playing, a way of thinking about the music which has to do mainly with improvisation. That’s why we have Brazil Jazz, Latin Jazz, Fusion Jazz… it’s like a way of looking at these genres from another point of view. Flamenco as a music genre is also very flexible once you understand its principles. There are many similarities both historically and musically between jazz (musical genre) and flamenco like black-white vs. gypsies-non gypsies/ Both come from songs of oppressed communities (kind of), the songs are accompanied improvising in given structures…The connection is deep, some of us are digging into these ideas to come up with original projects to expand our views and, therefore, our happiness.

In flamenco there is an expression that measures how flamenco someone is, are you “Muy flamenco”? Are you ‘
very’ anything?
– There are no musicians in my family and I didn’t grow up listening to Camarón or Coltrane, so I guess I am not ‘very’ anything in particular. But I am very curious, that’s for sure. And somehow I have managed to make a living out of playing double bass and composing music. So what you could say, is that I am very lucky.

On your new CD “Al Toque” you perform with your musicians well-known pieces by the great guitarists, how did you come up with the idea?

– About four years ago I reunited Moisés P. Sánchez and Paquito González to play my tunes in some concerts. One of them was in Melilla Jazz Festival, and the head of the Festival Kiriko Gutierrez insisted that I should do something with that trio. One of the tunes was an arrangement of a piece by Paco de Lucía, which planted the seed.
Suddenly one day during the lockdown, the idea came to my head fully developed. It must have been brooding in the back of my mind for quite some time. So when I saw it in front of me, there was not one doubt. It took me around two weeks to transcribe and arrange all that madness with the feeling that the project was a reality, it was very clear. After that everything has gone naturally, some rehearsing, the recording… everything has been pretty smooth and easy in a way. That does not happen very often.

Explain a bit about the arrangements, it’s not that easy to beat a guitar, is it?

– The intention obviously is not to overcome the flamenco guitar. The flamenco guitar is a miracle of the human imagination, it is really astonishing what this group of people has created. My intention was not just to pay tribute to the artists (although that was also a reason) but most of all to honor their compositions. I always remember Manolo Sanlucar defending the flamenco composition as a high art of music and I completely agree. These compositions are true works of the art and they don’t often get to be adapted for musical formations without the guitar. This project had given me the chance to do something interesting, challenging and beautiful with my time.

” The flamenco guitar is a miracle of the human imagination”

Pablo Martín Caminero

You have known percussionist Paquito González for a long time, do you sometimes improvise during live performances?
Yes we do. The are two ways of improvising, one is in the given composition, the melody we kind of go with in different ways depending on the mood. The other is during the solos. As in the jazz form we improvise solos over the given harmonic structures of the pieces, anything can happen there.

And finally: you are also with Ana Morales in “La Cuerda Floja”, with Bolita and with Paquito González. Could we say that you are in fashion with your double bass, or is it an instrument that gives flamenco music something that was missing until now?
I don’t think so. (…) In some way the electric bass has been closer to flamenco because of the master Carles Benavent and his collaboration with Paco de Lucía. But I think that the double bass, as an acoustic instrument, is more natural to flamenco. Now we have to work on the look of a ‘flamenco’ double bass as we have the ‘flamenco’ guitar, with its own personality. Like the flute of Jorge Pardo, which is a ‘flamenco’ flute and many people follow that beautiful path that comes from “singing” flamenco with the flute… maybe one day I can appear as “Al toque: Pablo Martín Caminero“, playing my double bass. Who knows…

Foto’s: Simone Fratini
Text: Susanne Zellinger

Susanne Zellinger is flamenco journalist and editor-in-chief of Flamenco Divino.

Flamenco Biënnale Nederland: check out the online festival program streamed live from Madrid and Sevilla to any home across the globe.