Simon Thacker's Ritmata
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Simon Thacker's Ritmata

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom | Established. Jan 01, 2006 | INDIE

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2006
Band World Jazz


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Edinburgh Festival, Made in Scotland showcase"

You could call it soul music, though not in any conventional sense. As eclectically-inclined classical guitarist Simon Thacker explained, the aim of his Ritmata quartet is to take music from various parts of the globe, strip it down to essentials and render it new, sometimes echoing ancestral beliefs and emotions. This they do with surprising, often spectacular, results.

Take, for instance, the two 13th-century Cantigas de Santa Maria, devotional songs from a Spanish-Moorish world which in itself was cross-cultural, reflected by Ritmata’s genre-bashing approach, which saw the first cantiga delivered with percussive punch, but with guitar and piano still carrying the liturgical line, and with a degree of polyphonic harmony, while the second was informed by Thacker’s interest in Indian music, with its ruminative solo guitar prelude in the manner of the alap which opens a raga.

Part of the Fringe’s Made in Scotland showcase, Ritmata sees the classical guitarist in the company of three highly regarded Scottish-based jazz musicians; pianist Paul Harrison, Mario Caribe on double bass and Stu Brown on drums. It’s an unusual combination but an impressively tight one, as demonstrated by lighting unison runs on guitar, keyboard and bass in the second cantiga, or in the concert’s newest piece, the powerful Asuramaya, which drew on south Indian rhythms and which saw further cascades of piano and guitar between explosively slamming chords.

The breathless whirl of an Azerbaijani folk song provided another opportunity for Brown to let rip on drums, while Roberto Baden Powell’s Afro-samba Berimbau brought things to an infectiously rhythmic conclusion, with Harrison cutting loose on piano and Thacker imitating the Brazilian percussion instrument of the title apparently without serious injury to his guitar. - The Scotsman

"Five stars, Edinburgh Festival 2014, Made in Scotland showcase"

ED2014 5/5 Reviews ED2014 Music Reviews
Oh lucky, lucky Edinburgh. Simon Thacker is in my opinion – one of the most important musicians of his generation. His world class quartet of classical guitar, bass, piano and drum kit played a stunning hour of significant world music that left this reviewer thrilled. Thacker’s compositions most of the programme are based on music from across space and time, containing influences from Azerbaijan, Dagestan, India and thirteenth century Spain to name but a few. There was even the world premiere of ‘Asuramaya’ – giving each of the group a chance to improvise, breaking away briefly from the precision and discipline of playing this exacting, demanding, breathless music. This was a night of rhythm, excitement and genuinely wonderful musicianship.
Summerhall, until 23 Aug.
tw rating 5/5 | [Louise Rodgers] - ThreeWeeks

"Lammermuir Lestival, guitar night"

For a single day, joked artistic co-director Hugh Macdonald in his concert introduction, the Lammermuir Festival had turned little Dunbar into the guitar capital of the world.

The day concluded with an informal evening of guitar jazz and contemporary music in the unlikely setting of Belhaven Fruit Farm.

Stars of the show were East Lothian-born guitarist Simon Thacker with his jazz quartet Ritmata, who brought striking energy and wit to an unusual and eclectic couple of sets. Thacker is clearly a keen musical traveller: his jazz arrangements took in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Thessaloniki and 13th-century Spain. But what unified these contrasting pieces were the group’s tight ensemble and driving rhythmic energy – although the audience had a hard time tapping their feet along to Thacker’s sparky, ever-changing rhythms.

A couple of numbers based on the medieval Cantigas de Santa Maria combined ancient-sounding bare harmonies with beautifully liquid playing from Thacker, and his Alim Qasimov arrangement became a funky, exotic-sounding romp.
The concert was a fitting conclusion to a day of guitar celebration. - The Scotsman

"5 stars, Fringe By The Sea Festival"

From ancient Europe to contemporary Brazil

By Alan Coady
Now in its fourth year, Fringe by the Sea is an enthusiastically supported satellite of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe. Located 25 scenic miles from the capital, in the beautiful seaside town of North Berwick, it offers a wide variety of cultural events with music at its core. One of four simultaneous events on the evening of Aug 11, Simon Thacker's Ritmata drew a large crowd to St. Andrew Blackadder Church with its unique take on music's interelationships.

The quartet is the brainchild of Scotland's foremost classical guitarist, the adventurous and insatiably curious Simon Thacker. The genesis and pioneer of many recent commissions, he tirelessly trawls centuries and cultures for source material which then undergoes transcription, arrangement or re-composition. The result is an invigorating, reinvention of the guitar's place on the concert platform. Such an ambition could never fly without a daring crew and Thacker has found resonant company in pianist Paul Harrison, bassist Mario Caribe and drummer/percussionist, Stuart Brown.

One rich seam mined to great effect is the musical heritage of the Sephardi Jews who, until their expulsion in 1492, resided in Spain. The first half opened with a dynamic arrangement of the song Descanso de me vida (My life's repose) and closed with Ovshori, a Mountain Jewish/Azerbaijani Folk Dance. Tarantella-like in spirit, it featured dialogue between unison pitched instruments and a highly tuned timbale. Since hearing this piece, and revisiting their performance of it several times on YouTube, I find it to be one of these puzzling and addictive pieces which, while making complete sense at the moment of hearing, eludes the memory thereafter, prompting further hearing.

At the core of this half of the recital were three of the Cantigas de Santa Maria - a collection of 420 songs written in the reign of King Alfonso X El Sabio (The Wise) of Spain (1221–1284). Many of the original texts, written in Galician-Portuguese, celebrate an end to afflictions and woes following successful prayers for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Written during la convivencia, when Spanish Jews, Muslims and Christians coexisted in relative tranquility, these homophonic cantigas bear traces of that cross-cultural era. This seems to make them less prone to the gravitational pull of western implied harmony (and its concomitant, harmonic rhythm) affording the interpreter great expressive freedom. As the ensemble's title might suggest, rhythmic vitality was where the musicians made their mark. The ensemble writing and playing were outstanding – all the more so when you consider that players of such percussive melodic instruments cannot ease into a note. Ritmata offered three cantigas: Des oge mais quer' eu trobar (No. 1); De Santa Maria sinal qual xe quer (No. 123); Non vos e gran maravilla (No. 177). I found it fascinating, after the event, to compare other settings of these same cantigas with Thacker's and look forward to exploring this huge canon further.

The central cantiga was preceded by a guitar taqsim – an intense, improvised introduction over a drone provided by a shruti box. A celebration of coloratura guitar playing, this passage featured pitch bends more severe than many would suppose a classical guitar – or a guitarist's hand - to be capable. I thought it a lovely arranger's touch that, thanks to the unmetered nature of this introduction, the listeners appreciated the rhythmic drive when the other musicians rejoined, even although the rhythmic subdivisions would normally wrong-foot a strictly western listener.

The second half, devoted entirely to Brazilian music featured works by pianist and composer, Radamés Gnattali (1906-88) and guitarist, pianist and composer, Egberto Gismonti (b. 1947). The latter, like Thacker, seems to thrive at the interface of tradtion and modernity. Of Gnattali's three pieces featured, I sensed that Baião, from his Brazilian Popular Suite most animated the audience and demonstrated the power of the lydian dominant scale to ensure a feel good factor in an up-beat composition. Four well chosen Gismonti pieces, Maracatu; Lôro; Choro; Frevo displayed that there is more to an individual than national style, and that there is more to a national style than similarity. While many might be able to guess the origin of the music, they would soon agree, after hearing these pieces, that the style is as vast as the country. I felt here that Ritmata joyously occupied that rare territory between rhythmic exactitude and freedom.

The encore, Berimbau by Baden Powell de Aquino (1937-2000) was a playful depiction of this totemic Brazilian instrument. I feel certain that many in the audience will seek out Ritmata out in other settings. If you have the chance to experience these four musicians who, in the service of musical expression, wear their virtuosity lightly, then I feel sure that you would enjoy an eveing as unique as it is diverse.

Traditional Jewish, Descanso de mi vida (arr. Thacker)
Alfonso X El Sabio, Cantiga de Santa Maria no. 1 (Des Oge Mais)
Alfonso X El Sabio, Cantiga de Santa Maria 177: Non vos e gran maravilla
Traditional, Other (Bana Bana Gel from Azerbaijan, arr. Thacker)
Traditional Jewish, Ovshori
Gnattali, Suite Retratos: Chiquinha Gonzaga (arr. Thacker)
Gnattali, Brazilian Popular Suite (Baião and Samba-Cançao)
Simon Thacker's Ritmata
Simon Thacker, Guitar
Paul Harrison, Piano
Mario Caribe, Double Bass
Stuart Brown, Percussion, Drums -

"Taranaki Festival, New Zealand Review 2015"

Ritmata really brought the international to the Taranaki International Arts Festival.

With hints of Oriental music, dashings of Latin American, bursts of Indian and Middle Eastern and a series of head-bopping Brazilian beats, Ritmata captured a world of sound.

The four-piece musical ensemble transcended genres and tied together sounds from across the globe and throughout the eras.

Classical guitar maestro Simon Thacker was a hit with the crowd and took his audience on a tour of music dating back to the 13th Century.

The masterful player used his guitar in ways seldom heard in New Zealand and peppered the performance with humour and history.

The concert was at times surprising and the textured music drew the audience in and whisked them away to places long forgotten, capturing the "hopes, beliefs and suspicions of the time", as Thacker so eloquently put it.

He was joined onstage by three of Europe's leading jazz and world music performers; Paul Harrison on piano, Mario Caribe on bass, and Stu Brown on drums.

Each musician was equally entertaining and truly captured both the light and the darkness of their instruments.

The group exemplified what Taranaki has come to expect of the festival's artistic director, Drew James.

In Ritmata he had unearthed a rare gem and brought them to New Zealand for the first time.

Thacker remarked that Ritmata's performance in New Plymouth was the first time anyone had danced at any one of his concerts, ever.

Many toe-tappers in the audience found that hard to believe, knowing Thacker would have a sea of dancers if he were to play at Womad, the Taranaki Art Festival's Trust other outstanding event.

The ensemble was a perfect act to have on the last day of the arts festival.

It reminded those who were sad about the festival's end that just around the corner is the next explosion of talent - Womad, an event where Ritmata would be perfectly at home. - Taranaki Daily news

"Auckland, New Zealand review 2015"

An intimate stamping of the musical passport

SIMON THACKER'S RITMATA ENSEMBLE REVIEWED (2015): An intimate stamping of the musical passport
Given the musical breadth, geographic width and emotional depth of Simon Thacker's music it was disappointing that his sole Auckland concert — the final on a nine-date New Zealand tour — should be held in such a small room as the 1885/CJC club and only be attended by a modestly sized, if enthusiastic, audience.

But that too often seems to be the way of it these days for an artist of Thacker's stature.

Despite being a multiple-award winning guitarist whose reach and grasp extends from flamenco and classical styles to the music of India, Pakistan and — as we discovered in this thrilling concert with his Ritmata band – Azerbaijan, there was a parlous amount of advance publicity for his concert.

And conspicuously nothing in the mainstream media.

It would seem these days if you are anything but a classical performer or along the pop/rock and hip-hop axis — and in the latter, already well established — then the media will give you a wide berth. Television? Fuggetaboutit.

Too new, too different, too difficult to think about maybe?

Thacker's musical skills, droll personal charm and that expansive repertoire -- delivered with passionate intensity or subtle sensitivity -- could and should have drawn a very large audience from those with interests across the musical spectrum.

And as we know, they are out there.

But they have to hear about it.

I suspect the “j” word which crept in might be the curse. But although much of his music is improvised, Thacker is not strictly a jazz artist. He is a "post-style" musician as John Adams describes many late 20th century/21st century performers.

Had this concert been promoted and billed as something along the lines of classical or even world music, Thacker and his pals could perhaps have played the Town Hall Concert Chamber or a small theatre.

That said, there's always something special (and smugly elitist I have to confess) about seeing an artist like Thacker up close and very personal . . . so close you could see every effortless finger flourish across the acoustic fretboard and pick up every one of his wry jokes delivered in a gorgeously thick Scottish accent.

And what a treat this performance was.

For the encore — which he flagged two songs previous by saying it would follow the deafening applause at the end of the official programme — he brought on local singer Caro Manins for the incredibly haunting Madre De Deus, a song which he reimagined from 13th century Spanish source material.

As he noted, much of the music in this concert had been made up of such diverse origins — some of it very ancient, others more recent like the two pieces by Brazilian guitarist Egberto Gismonti – which he had adapted.

It's a rare concert in which the music of the distant past such as those drawn from traditional Sephardic Jewish music from Spain can feel so vibrant and of the moment.

As he observed after two pieces adapted from the Spanish Cantigas de Santa Maria – a collection of vernacular notated music of around 400 songs which form the root of Western Music, he said — “the soul lives on through music”.

Thacker was however quick to deny his own composition Asuramaya was an Indian raga even though it was based on the form and his studies in that difficult art form.

Whatever it was, it too spoke to and from the living soul.

And master though he might be — and that is undeniable, as anyone on the night would attest – Thacker had his equals on piano (Paul Harrison), acoustic bass (Mario Caribe) and drums (Stuart Brown).

In Gismonti's Choro which opened the second half he and Harrison played thrilling parallel lines of breathtaking speed and precision.

Such was their symmetry it was hard to discern who was playing what.

For his own Honour the Treaties which he described as being based on the way Native Americans sang at powwows, drummer Brown offered staccato patterns which seemed machine-tooled and drilling into the whole.

From the ancient Americas to pre-Renaissance Europe, from Mogul India, Pakistan and music from Azerbaijan so old it is simply accepted a “traditional” (the moving Bana Bana Gel), this was a journey through space and time. But always in the moment, as the jazz musicians say.

And as the genial and witty host — whose self-described comments were “as dry as a badger's arrrrse” — Thacker made it look so effortless.

Afterwards I said to him I hoped he would return with his Indian ensemble Svara-Kanti. However he noted that of all the groups he's helmed – Ritmata and Svara-Kanti among them — his most recent configuration with the Baul singer Raju Das has received the greatest acclaim. (Not his words, he's far too modest, Scottish and self-aware for that).

Let's hope Simon Thacker is invited to return and brings that group.

And that the “j” word will be relegated so he may get some much deserved mainstream publicity in advance . . . and play in a larger room to a bigger audience.

But for now, my guess is there are a couple of dozen people walking around Auckland still shaking their heads at what they witnessed and enjoyed.

Good jokes too . . . unless you came from Aberdeen and were thin-skinned.

For an lengthy interview at Elsewhere with Simon Thacker (conducted before this New Zealand tour) see here.

Simon Thacker's Ritmata Ensemble player Auckland's 1885 Club, September 9, 2015

By Graham Reid, posted Sep 10, 2015 - Elsewhere

"Auckland, New Zealand review 2015"

There was a buzz of excitement surrounding Simon Thacker’s ‘Ritmata’ tour. Not the touring rock-band sort of buzz, but a word of mouth Twitter-post kind. A buzz generated by night people and festival goers. Those who pay close attention to good music. I followed the threads and everything I read about Thacker sat well with me. I looked forward to his Auckland gig and the hype was not over-stated. Ritmata was a delight.

I have travelled extensively through the Mediterranean region and delighted in the diverse streams of music flowing together; Armenian, North African, Sufi, Sephardic, Flamenco, Jazz etc. Thacker takes this concept further. It is a human weakness to catalogue, to reach for definitions. It is the inbuilt train-spotter lurking in our subconscious mind and it doesn’t work well with bands like this. Ritmata may draw upon many sources but it is owned by none of them. While there are many familiar references, the music reaches for clear space. What appears as a multicultural journey, departs for newer unexplored realms. The familiar is fleeting because this music is more than the sum of its parts.

Simon Thacker is the ideal front man; funny, confident, virtuosic. His authority emanating from a force field of energy. A musical vision that engages; thriving on intimacy. A club setting is therefore perfect, with warmth and exuberance captured, contained; audience and musicians sharing an experience. Thacker’s banter is quirky, self-deprecating and it connects. There were howls of delight at the sheep jokes and they told me something important. Scotts, Kiwis and Australians have a shared humour, a post colonial cultural connection. An inbuilt irreverence that is part of our evolving story.

The first set opened with traditional Sephardic melodies ‘reimagined’. This is familiar territory as Caroline Manins has trodden this path with her Mother Tongue project. Some of these tunes are more than a thousand years old (‘Des Oge Mais’), and in spite of dealing with loss or longing, they are often fast paced and rhythmically complex. In Ritmata’s hands they are ancient to modern. Evoking the melting pot of Judaic Moorish Spain but never time-locked. Elements of Flamenco, and even the modal chromaticism of Jazz pianists like McCoy Tyner came to mind.

There were a number of interesting Thacker originals and to my delight three pieces based on Egberto Gismonti compositions (a stunning Brazilian improvising guitarist who used the street music of Choro to create similar, beyond-genre visions – an artist beloved of Jazz audiences). One of Thacker’s tunes ‘Honour the Treaties’ referenced the chants of American Indians and as indicated by the wild applause, it resonated powerfully. Then there was ‘Asuramaya’, influenced by the Indian Ragas. That piece had a delicious dream-sequence feel to it. He rounded off his sets with a traditional Azerbaijani tune, ‘Bana Bana Gel’ and a Jewish tune ‘Ovshori’ from the mountains Dagestan. When the audience clamoured for an encore, vocalist and Sephardic specialist Carolina Manins joined the band singing ‘Madre de Deus’; again reimagined by Thacker.

While Thacker dominated proceedings with his larger than life presence, the band members were stars in their own right. I have seldom heard a unit so in lock-step. The pianist, bass and drums were as central to the enjoyment as Thacker himself. The spotlight must lastly fall on that lovely guitar; I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. An extraordinary Rouse classical guitar; it sang like the Lyre of Orpheus. Orchestrating time and place; stretching time until we could see the future. - Jazzlocal32


Creative Scotland supported debut album coming in 2016



Simon Thacker's Ritmata performs new music by the visionary guitar virtuoso, distilling the essence of his pioneering intercultural musical experiences and lifelong absorption in some of the most powerful sounds from across continents and epochs, constantly expanding the expressive means of his unique musical language. Featuring soul stirring improvisation and a directly emotive compositional style, Simon leads a stellar lineup of some of Europe's most gifted musicians, consisting of Paul Harrison (piano), Mario Caribe (bass) and Stu Brown (drums/percussion). 

Simon's compositions for Ritmata source musical inspiration from every corner of the globe. As a group, they flit expertly between Middle-Eastern intensity, medieval meditation (Simon's reimagining of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, 13th century Spanish miracle songs), Native American affirmation, the limitless expression of Indian ragas, pulsating rhythms from East Africa, the unbridled emotions of flamenco and the celebrations of Sephardic Judaism. The results, however, are more than mere synthesis. Stunning original patterns are woven seamlessly into a new aural fabric, and the outcome sees Simon create his own tradition from his immersion in others.

Ritmata's debut album, supported by Creative Scotland, will be released in 2016. Expect the delicious shock of the new alongside a further dismantling of musical boundaries and total immersion in creative expression. They were featured as part of the Made in Scotland international showcase at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014 and had a successful 8 date tour of New Zealand in 2015.

Band Members