Billie Jean is such a fixture of the pop-cultural landscape that it is difficult to approach it anew. Weddings, student nightclubs, the movies... It’s everywhere. But have you ever truly heard the Michael Jackson classic if you are have never heard it performed by guitarists and a de facto percussionist performing on nylon-string classical guitar?
And we don’t mean that each of the players has his own guitar. No, we’re talking three guitar players on a single guitar, while a fourth member of their group slaps the beat out on the guitar’s soundboard and sides.
That’s the remarkable approach the Barcelona Guitar Trio & Dance took in their tribute to the late flamenco nuevo trailblazer Paco de Lucía.
We all own – or at least have heard of – one of de Lucía’s greatest moments on record as one third of the famous Guitar Trio with John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola who recorded the 1981 live album and fusion masterpiece Friday Night In San Francisco in 1981.
Guitar was taken to a different level that night, as surely it was when the Barcelona Guitar Trio assembled in a such unorthodox fashion, three hands mustering to fret the Billie Jean bassline, chords and lead melody, the other three to pick the notes.
It is a bamboozling performance. Close your eyes and it sounds like three guitars in concert. Open them and it looks like a game of Twister, a Photoshop gone wrong.
The Barcelona Guitar Trio comprises Manuel González, Xavier Coll and Luis Robisco, with Paquito Escudero providing percussion. Jose Manuel Alvarez and Carolina Morgado are their dancers, though there was enough going on visually here that they were not needed.
Billie Jean might have been performed as a bit of fun on the night, but the troupe’s tribute to De Lucía is entirely sincere, and they perform tracks by Manuel de Falla, Federico García Lorca, Chick Corea and de Lucía himself on the night. Their next performance is on Thursday, 8 September at Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona.
See Maestros de la Guitarra (opens in new tab) for more details. Maybe one day they’ll commit this rendition of Billie Jean to tablature. You’ll just need to find two more ready and able players to perform it, and someone to hold down the beat.