Willie & Lobo mix up styles, sounds

Published: Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 12:54 p.m.

If ever a modest warehouse room became a luxuriant concert hall, it was the night Willie & Lobo packed listeners in to line the walls and sit cross-legged on a hard-wood floor just feet away from the musicians themselves.

The plain, simple walls might as well have had tapestries of lush vistas, mystical casbahs and tropical beaches, because the sounds that washed over the crowd that night took them on a virtual tour of worldly sounds in a irresistible way.

That scene was in a Lakeland warehouse circa 1996 and was replicated in many ways a decade later when the duo played the last in a string of Gainesville performances at the Thomas Center.

And it well may be repeated Tuesday when the reunited duo returns to the Thomas Center for a show that could be their last performance in these parts.

Through 10 albums together, from 1993's "Gypsy Boogaloo" to 2006's "Zambra," violinist Willie Royal and flamenco guitarist Wolfgang "Lobo" Fink succeeded in fashioning sounds that worked like a worldly magic carpet, combining everything from Gypsy jazz, Celtic folk and Western swing to Latin, Tex-Mex and Middle-Eastern music.

It's almost impossible, really, to describe the sounds and vibes that Royal, an "Air Force brat" who grew up in Turkey, Germany, France and Florida (and even studied at Santa Fe Community College), began producing with Lobo, a German native who was influenced by Gypsy musicians and spent time in Gypsy camps in France and Spain, after they met in a Mexican cantina in 1983.

After years of albums and touring, however, the pair amicably went their separate ways a couple of years ago, but recently reunited to play a jazz cruise and a handful of performances in Mexico and Florida.

By most accounts, including Royal's own, Tuesday's performance in Gainesville will likely be their last in our parts as the violinist begins working with his own group, Willie Royal and the Locos.

I don't know if that ultimately will be true or not, but I do know that Tuesday marks a show that's not to be missed.

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