Review: Jorge Drexler @ La Linea: Union Chapel (London, 21st April 2015)

Last night at Union Chapel I was introduced to the sound of Jorge Drexler. How I had managed to go so long without hearing the name, let alone his music, will remain a mystery. Drexler, a Uruguayan troubadour with bags of charisma, sensitively fuses together a concoction of traditional Uruguayan music and jazz sounds to create a beautiful range of songs that are hugely evocative, both melodically and lyrically.

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Ably supported by Martin Leiton on double bass and Borja Barrueta on drums, Drexler led us down a road paved with rich and varied melodies. From the opening strains of Bailar En La Cueva, with its infectious up-tempo feel, to the rather more melancholic La Edad Del Cielo, Drexler wove a carpet of sonic textures. His orchestrations – often using several guitars – were further enhanced at one point by the audience, who became a choir. This wonderful use of light and shade resulted in crescendos of sound so simple, yet so effective.

Drexler is a storyteller. Between songs he held court and shared a memory of a night-time experience, a coastal walk in his homeland. It was pitch dark apart from a lighthouse, which illuminated his path every twelve seconds. During the twelve seconds of darkness he had to stop walking. Then the lighthouse would shine brightly across his path again to show him the way, followed by another twelve seconds of darkness, and so on. For Drexler, this was a metaphor for his own life journey. It also formed the basis of Noctiluca, a song inspired by the birth of his son.

Drexler is engaging and humorous. There were many outbursts of laughter and despite not understanding the language I still managed to feel the human connection. The main Union Chapel space is big, yet he managed to make it small and intimate. There was even time for an audience request, Flores En El Mar, a song in which we all took part. The ever-enthusiastic audience seemed to want to join in at every opportunity, but Drexler was always in control, orchestrating the evening as he wished.

Throughout the performance there was warmth. Warmth on stage, amongst the audience and even from the candles and low level lighting that transformed that amazing church into the wonderful music venue that it is. The rapport between the artist and his patrons exuded a natural passion. From the outset there was a magical togetherness, a musical union in Union Chapel.

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