Flamenco Nuevo pioneer Gerardo Núñez has a modest stage presence that belies the fiery flamenco he can produce. The Cadiz Spanish guitar legend has worked with artists across the board but for his own showcase, presented as part of this year’s Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival, he strips things down to basics: guitar, cajón, double bass, singer and his dancer wife Carmen Cortés. Simple ingredients that produce an alchemical reaction on the stage, as Núñez unleashes cascades of sounds from his guitar, sweeping from rattling, loud and heavy strikes on the strings, to impossibly fast filigree fretwork and a bout of jazzy loucheness amplified by Pablo Martín Caminero’s soulful bass playing.
The ease with which these performers mesh together reveals strong bonds and much time spent together. Núñez indulges in friendly contests with Angel Sánchez González on cajón, each pushing the other to the next level – Sánchez’s duet with Martín, meanwhile, takes an unexpected turn when Sánchez wanders over, takes a selfie of the pair of them, then starts drumming out perfect rhythms on the body of the contrabass as Martín continues to play. But Jerez cantaor David Carpio’s singing drags you back to the harsh, painful edges of flamenco, carefully balancing the moments of fusion and gentle comedy.
For dance fans, the chance to see Carmen Cortés is an unalloyed joy. When she abandons providing palmeos and steps to the front of the stage, she prowls cat-like around the music, working her way into its corners, before unfurling serpentine arms, twisting hands and defiant poses, and then throwing herself into a shin-splintering stampede of steps. This is flamenco dancing in its rawest, most affecting form, short bursts of powerful emotion with no regard for prettiness and decorum: Cortés will stand with legs wide apart, her skirts hitched up any way, while she finds her inspiration, and it’s thrilling to watch such a primal response to the music executed with such innate artistry. On this particular night, she looked less comfortable performing with the encumbrance of one outfit’s bata de cola; it was a night for freedom, for flying hairclips and earrings and for searing flamenco that left her winded with its force.