Some iconic Barcelona musicians need no introduction and Dani Nel·lo could well be top of that list. In fact, his credentials as a saxophonist have been constantly evolving over the last four decades. He has been a member of the legendary Los Rebeldes; founder of Los Mambo Jambo; and archaeologist in sound as leader of Los Saxofonistas Salvajes, as well as a lover of the craziest jazz, devotee of crime novels and a presenter on the iCat radio station. More than a musician, he is a multifaceted, hyperactive chameleon who has made freedom his true badge of identity as he moves effortlessly within the confines of the African-American-rooted music he loves so well. “The saxophone has always been one of the emblems of jazz, but I have always claimed it as an essential part of rock & roll, rhythm & blues, soul and even funk. A number of genres would be unthinkable without the saxophone, and I think this needs to be highlighted,” he told me a few years ago. “Modern musicians or jazz scholars have often looked down their noses at me, but I believe that I have a right to my own world and this comes from rhythm & blues.”
After lockdown, Dani Nel·lo has returned to the road to perform at all kinds of festivals, released a new album with Los Mambo Jambo (the fabulous Exotic Rendezvous) and toured several Spanish cities with the intimate show “Noir”. This year, though, he has decided to give his illustrious career a new twist with the project Dani Nel·lo + Organ Trio. This is a bold approach to reclaiming a musical format that emerged in the mid-20th century with the noble aim of getting people dancing in the classiest nightclubs. From this point of view, it was a new sound that emerged when rhythm & blues and jazz saxophonists teamed up with organists to break the dominance of the big bands and show that megalomania does not always equal fun. For many they were the first musical rebels, long before words like punk were part of the popular imagination. “I think the explosion of African-American music during the 20th century has already become universal. Of course there are ethnic, racial and local nuances, but its impact has been enormous,” he told me in an interview. “The spores of music never stop travelling. They can land in unfavourable conditions, but they end up bearing fruit thousands of kilometres from their origin. It’s like a miracle.”
The usual suspects accompanying him on this new musical adventure are Gerard Nieto on organ, Martín Burguez on electric guitar and Ramón Ángel Rey on drums. This is a band with its own identity that is very clear about its historical references but remains strongly anchored in the present. That’s why they have cooked up a wild repertoire based on the most iconic compositions of Dani Nel·lo’s career and have also locked themselves in the studio to record a four-track EP entitled Grand Prix, which will be released this autumn. You can already listen to the first track from it (“The Scorpion”) on all digital platforms.
Dani Nel·lo + Organ Trio made their debut at the last Mercat de Música Viva in Vic and on 18 September they could be seen up close and personal at the Jamboree as part of the Rhythm ‘N’ Jamboree cycle. This was undoubtedly a perfect opportunity to discover the new sound of one of Barcelona’s most acclaimed musicians and to see that the days of lockdown have served to reactivate a musical scene with African-American roots that is still bringing many surprises as the year draws to an end. “Suddenly, circumstances dictated that you could no longer be yourself because you could not perform the mission to which you had devoted your whole life,” the saxophonist told me a few months ago. “You had to play alone at home and you couldn’t share the music with anyone. It was as if Superman had to live permanently in the skin of Clark Kent.” Fortunately, musical superheroes always return when they are most needed and Dani Nel·lo’s new project already looks like becoming a classic.