It was a remarkable coup for Manchester Jazz Festival, with the help of co-sponsors the Instituto Cervantes, to persuade Spanish harmonica virtuoso Antonio Serrano to break off from touring with Paco De Lucía for this one-off date, his solo debut in the UK. They were rewarded with a terrific show in front of a packed house – if you can call this wonderful city-centre church such a thing.
There were plenty of surprises in store, not least Antonio’s confession that he had beem ignorant about flamenco before he got the call from one of its greatest exponents. But he has clearly studied hard since, to judge by his alegrias rendition, transposed to the Steinway piano. The very fact that Serrano played keyboards at all came as a surprise to some of the audience, let alone that he played them simultaneously to coaxing the most remarkable sounds from an array of harmonicas.
From George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ to the deep blues of Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Eyesight To The Blind’, via hymns and even a version of ‘Danny Boy’, this was an adventurous show that ranged far and wide – all delivered with a jaw-dropping dexterity on an instrument that’s often derided as limited. In the hands of a master like Serrano, that’s very evidently not the case.