Extra Zone

Recommended Cds, Books etc.                      

Bajo El Cielo (2003)                                                                         


Naturally, most flamenco guitar enthusiasts eagerly await new recordings from top Spanish players such as Gerardo Nuñez, Vicente Amigo, Tomatito, Niño Josele etc. As well as waiting for such releases it would be wise to occasionally look outside Spain as there are gems to be found by non-Spanish guitarists who have dedicated their lives to Flamenco and have had plenty of experience in Spain but also have a unique voice because of their backgrounds and influences in their native countries.

One such example is the fabulous Dutch guitarist 'El Periquín'. I first met this guitarist while studying in Holland in 1986 - he was 17 years old at the time and had been playing a short while but has since then devoted his life to the art of flamenco guitar playing with tremendous results as can be heard on this 2003 CD Bajo El Cielo from Munich Records. Often, non-Spanish players are thought of as playing in a flamenco style with other influences that don't add up to a completely true flamenco experience. This is often a misconception, and this recording proves that you don't have to be Spanish to play flamenco in a completely true way with full understanding of all the essential elements and with integrity, sensitivity, musicality and impeccable compas. So, from the start let me make it clear that this is a recording that stands tall alongside any Spanish releases while at the same time displaying a completely individual voice - El Periquín's interests also lay in classical, jazz and gypsy (Eastern European) sounds and he has expertly blended these sounds without ever making the sum total seem un-flamenco.

An impressive line-up on the CD includes dancer Andres Marin (footwork on two bulerias tracks), gifted pianist Amina Figarova, Fried Manders (accordion) and Wilma Thalen on violin. A very special aspect of this CD is Joan Albert Amargos' participation on four tracks: the beautiful Zapateado Agua Dulce, the solea por bulerias Paseo, the title track Bajo El Cielo (a fantasia) and the bulerias Sonakay Suite which has references to the title track on El Periquín's first recording Sonakay. Amargos is a specialist in flamenco arrangements and orchestrations and has worked with some of the greatest artists in flamenco. In 1996 he conducted 'Viento De Libertad' with Jose Antonio Rodriguez as soloist, and in 2004 he conducted the Cadiz symphony orchestra in the 'Sonanta Suite' for the Bienal Flamenco in Seville with Tomatito as soloist. He also collaborated with Vicente Amigo on Bolero de Marcos on Amigo's 2005 album 'Un Momento en el Sonido'. Amargos' arrangements on El Periquín's involve beautiful use of accordion, violin, piano and flute.

Non-Spanish guitarists don't seem to get much publicity apart from in their own countries but it is worth seeking out and paying attention to certain players as there are - as in this case - great treasures to be found. All the compositions are by El Periquín.

The CD can be purchased from El Periquin's website www.elperiquin.com where you can also hear MP3 samples of all the tracks as well as some nice samples of his pieces with Chispa - a flamenco jazz trio with another guitarist and bass player.

Dunas (1995)

Here's an interesting album from a true flamenco great. This CD was pretty poorly distributed as far as I'm aware so is therefore quite hard to find these days. Labelled on the front as 'nuevo flamenco' (although I'm certain that was a decision by the record company and not the artist), don't make the mistake of thinking this is another album where an artist presumes to play 'new' flamenco without having any idea of the 'old' - resulting in obvious and simplistic use of flamenco rhythms with little or no depth. This is definitely not the case here.

What we have here is the 3rd recording of Jaen-born guitarist Pepe Justicia (who now resides in Jerez). Released in 1995, it comes after his first CD Azules - a true classic among flamenco guitar recordings. His first recording was called Xaen and was I believe only available on cassette in the late 80s. His last CD - Solo Agua - is a masterpiece of recording engineering and justly won an award for best sound recording in Spain recently. Anyway, back to Dunas.This is a collection of interesting and catchy themes which are not always in particular flamenco styles. The only ones that are based around recognizable forms are the opening bulerias Yaiyam, a jolly Rumba composed for his daughter (Rumbita pa mi Nena), a sweet colombiana (Junto a ti) and a virtuosic farruca (Otoño). However, the only one he chooses to identify as being in a particular form is the bulerias i.e. the only one where he puts the form in brackets after the title. There is a neat rendition of anonymous Romance which sounds like a smoky New York jazz style piece - in fact I didn't recognize it immediately as the Romance even though he gave it the title Romance!!! On hindsight it is obvious. This is not a cheap jazzing up of a famous piece - rather it is a sophisticated arrangement which shows the player's skill with harmony and his musical tastefulness.

I've always thought that Pepe Justicia was the only true 'fusion' flamenco artist almost because he does not try to fuse styles but just naturally plays his flamenco in a jazzy and sometimes classical style which never seems pretentious or contrived. Everything sounds natural and is therefore not really fusion although it is - IMHO - more successful than any other fusion that has occurred in flamenco (one only has to listen to his Bulerias on the first recording Xaen to hear this - it is one of the best tracks I have ever heard with flamenco guitar and piano). He also has a take on 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra' but with no tremolo - again this stands up as a great piece in its own right. He has titled this one Campo del Principe and again I did not immediately recognize the origin of this piece. Most of the tracks have quite a bit going on - palmas, tablas, darbouka, synthesisers, footwork, cajon and more. There are also a couple of slow and soulful tracks which are just guitar and parts with 2 guitars (both played by Pepe) which balance out the overall programme nicely.

This album is very easy to listen to and is probably what earned it the label 'nuevo flamenco'. However, I must point out that my take on flamenco that is 'easy to listen to' is that it should be accessible to the general music listening public while at the same time having the complexities underneath to satisfy those with more knowledge about flamenco. Pepe Justicia has successfully achieved these criteria with Dunas. All I can say is generally beware of albums that carry the label 'nuevo flamenco' as it usually ends up being an excuse for poor flamenco.

I remember Pepe Justicia came to work in London for about 3 months in the latter half of 1993. He had just released Azules and was working on some tracks from Dunas. I got to know him at that time and was fortunate enough to spend some time with him. I remember he was working with a portable Yamaha sequencer (QY70) and was arranging backing tracks for the Dunas album. He played three of them to me (playing along with his guitar) and I found the tunes beautiful and instantly memorable. When I later got the Dunas album only two of these tunes had made it onto the CD (Mi Pilar & Diecinueve Anos) - the third - Cancion para Irene - eventually surfacing on the Solo Agua CD.

Pepe Justicia effortlessly blends traditional sounds (meaning we never feel alienated) with modern flamenco and is starting to achieve the recognition he so deserves. Based on his technical ability and his amazing compositional and arranging skills, I put pepe Justicia up there with the very highest level of flamenco guitarists today - my top 10 of Paco de Lucía, Manolo Sanlúcar, Rafael Riqueni, Pepe Justicia, Gerardo Nuñez, Tomatito, Vicente Amigo, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Enrique de Melchor and Juan Cañizares.

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