The indefatigable Jordi Savall has taken on many roles over the years: viola da gamba virtuoso, conductor, scholar, entrepreneur, free thinker -- and now we should add "patriarch." Indeed, his current touring edition of Hesperion is almost entirely a family affair, early music's answer to other notable multigenerational touring clans like the Brubecks, the Romeros and the Jobims.
Wait: Let's strike the term "early music." This quintet has sprawled beyond those musty boundaries, using old instruments and forms in ways that transcend the genre. At almost any time Saturday night, one could have stumbled into the Getty Center's Williams Auditorium and sworn that this was a world music or folk concert.
A good deal of the new in Hesperion XXI's concert came from the kids -- Savall's daughter Arianna on vocals and arpa doppia (a folk harp of sorts) and son Ferran on the orbo (a large member of the lute family). In a solo spot, Arianna sang two songs from her recent album "Bella Terra," on her dad's Alia Vox label, in which she puts her own beguiling melodies to Mediterranean poetry. She also added an improvisation on a Santiago de Murcia jota that veered into some strikingly modern-sounding harmonies.
The charismatic Ferran performed a beautiful improvisation on his instrument, with smooth vocal obbligato, that crossed into the realms of jazz harmony and Latin jazz rhythms. And small wonder, for in addition to his early music activity, Ferran is an avid participant in jam sessions in Barcelona's jazz clubs.
Jordi Savall continues to astonish on his collection of delicate viols da gamba, and his wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras, sang with exceptionally intense expression and beauty. Percussionist Pedro Estevan is the only non-Savall -- though he is practically a member of the family, having played with Hesperion since 1985 -- and with every crisp, resonant tap of his drums, castanets or claves, he finds the right, spare, perfectly timed accent.
Yet the most fascinating thing about this quintet is how it ties everything together in the tradition of Mediterranean cross-cultural exchange, reaching deep into the past while absorbing influences from everywhere, reviving the lost art of improvisation that makes the music seem contemporary without compromising tradition.
Hesperion XXI's "Ostinato" CD is an irresistible example; the group's improvisations on set chord patterns from that project generated driving rhythmic grooves that could have gone on all night.