Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitarist Tomatito

Hits and Misses – Flamenco Guitar Hairshake Technique Tips and a Near Miss – by Brook Zern

I posted this to a discussion group in 2001:

Experts, who needs ‘em? I do.

Point 1:  I wasn’t crazy about Paco de Lucia’s version of the Concierto de Aranjuez, but I loved his De Falla album.  That one clearly violated the original score (I think), so it ain’t kosher but it worked for me.

About the Aranjuez video, Richard said “Paco does do the head back, eyes closed, hair shake, so that’s a plus:-)”

Yes.  I’ve been working on that head back, eyes closed, hair shake for a long time.  Just when I got the head back, eyes closed part, I found that I had lost too much hair for a convincing shake.  I blame the intensifying downward curve of my career on this.  (My Tomatito Toupee ® just doesn’t have the same vibrant responsiveness to shaking.)

Point 2:  Did Miles Davis copyright the saeta on Sketches of Spain?  As I recall, the trumpet does an impressively exact rendition of one of the favorite vocal lines for the saeta — the “arrow of song” sung to the massive passing floats with images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary during Holy Week processions.

There weren’t many recordings of saetas at the time — one of the most memorable was on a strange Folkways record titled “Flamenco” — white cover, sketch of a singer in the throes of singing.  A mixed bag of singers, field recorded but mostly forgettable.  The notes said the saeta was sung by a girl, twelve or fourteen.  It sounded terrific, and I wonder if Miles copped it from that disc.

Brook Zern

Okay, a year or two ago I was talking to José Manuel Gamboa, a neat guy who knows all and tells all about flamenco, during an increasingly hazy all-night flamenco session at the Colmao in Jerez.  I mentioned that discographic tidbit in passing, as if it mattered to anyone else on the planet.

His eyes lit up.  ”Jeez, where were you when I needed you?  I’ve been researching a book about flamenco in America, and I spent months trying to track down the source of that trumpet solo.  I finally found it last week.”

It was an honor to have almost been of service to him.

Brook Zern

February 9, 2015   1 Comment

Hollywood “Goes To” Flamenco – Article by Miquel Jurado in El País of April 24, 2014 – translated by Brook Zern

Proyecto estadounidense para rodar un filme ambientado en el mundo del cante

(An American project for a film shot within the world of flamenco song)

Historically, Hollywood has ignored flamenco or, worse yet, used it as an exotic guind in forgettable B movies.  Not even Al Pacino, doing a few steps in a flamenco night club to the sound of the singer Potito and the guitarist Tomatito in “The Devil’s Advocate” with the Devil could go beyond the stereotype; it simply lent some of the exotic spice of a musical form that American cinema seemed unable to understand.

Even before that, Hollywood had squandered talents as enormous as Carmen Amaya in the 1940’s (she would have to return to here native Somorrostro district of Barcelona for Francesc Rovera Beleta to give her the cinematographic vehicle she deserved [in “Los Tarantos”]), and of Antonio Gades in the sixties, though not even Jean Negulesco could do him justice (his film break would come at the hands of Carlos Saura).  Nor would our warmly remembered Paco de Lucía have any luck; it’s best to forget his futile work in a film starring Raquel Welch in the early seventies.

Now the director, choreographer and scriptwriter Daryl Lynn Matthews seems ready to change things by entering more deeply into the world of flamenco.  At least, that’s the basis for his new project, “Caminando”.  Matthews, whose other work includes the script and choreography of Chayanne titled “Baila Conmigo”, has written a story centering on an ex-U.S. Marine pilot of Spanish background who returns to Spain to find out why his father, a professional dancer, fled from his homeland.

From that point on, the hatred and violence of Spain’s past mix with innocent present-day love affairs, within the context of the best of today’s flamenco.

“I began the project soon after writing “Baila Conmigo”, says Daryl Lyn Matthews.  “I knew very little about the real world of flamenco in which I submerged myself but I felt an obligation. Realizing that there really should be an international English-language film with a good story, told through this precious, sexy, intense and unsettling culture.”

To tell the story, which will be filmed in sites like Madrid (the presentation videos were shot in that city’s noted tablao, Casa Patas) as well as in the Canary Islands, the Texan director has been relying on some renowned collaborators including the director of photography Vittorio Storano (with three Oscars, for “Reds”, “The Last Emperor” and “Apocalypse Now”.  Production design is in the hands of Waldemar Kalnowski and the Spanish production is headed by Carlos Saura, Jr. with Chiqui Maya as artistic producer.

An agreement has already been reached with Universal Records who will provide some of its artists (Tomatito, Rosario. Pitingo, and Antonio and Josemi Carmona) for a soundtrack for which seven of the thirteen projected songs have been completed; another number, which was to have featured the guitar of the late Paco de Lucía, can never be finished.

The names mentioned for the cast include “international figures still to be decided”, who will be linked to a flamenco lineup headed by Rafael Amargo, Monica Cruz, Lolita Flores and Joselito Maya.

At present, the team behind “Caminando” has begun the process of crowdfunding [“micromenazgo”] through Indiegogo to reach the initial goal of nine million Euros that will allow the beginning of filming at the end of next spring.

End of El País article.  The original is at http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2014/04/24/catalunya/1398294823_551859.html

Translator’s note:  It would be nice indeed if this became the English-language film to finally introduce the complex world of flamenco to American and international audiences.  It seems to have some serious backing, though a reliance on crowdfunding can be problematic at best. 

(I know nothing more about the project, but will keep an eye out for any further signs of progress.)

Brook Zern  


April 26, 2014   No Comments

“Rito y Geografía de la Guitarra Flamenca” Series – Program notes by Norberto Torres

The flamenco guitar expert Norberto Torres Cortés wrote the following detailed comments describing the six programs in the”Rito y Geografia de la Guitarra Flamenca”.  That was the guitar-focused series that was intended to complement the great “Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco” series, using much of the guitar-centered stuff from that show and also  lots of other material from Spanish Television’s archives.  It enumerates the pieces and then offers savvy critiques.  A useful resource for serious seekers of great guitar in what  is now called the old style.  It’s based on the Alga Editores version of VCR cassettes, which was badly done; it was supplanted by the better-made Television Española cassettes.  Now I hope it’s available on TVE DVD’s.

(No, it isn’t a fun read.  It isn’t really a read at all.  But I include lots of specialized and dry material like this in my Flamenco Experience blog because it becomes searchable-outable; that makes it far more useful for researchers and dedicated aficionados than if it were left in one of those old inert, non-interactive, carbon-based soft-drive devices — what were they called? — oh, yeah: books.)

And as always:  Chances are that the performances cited here have all migrated to YouTube — enter the name of the artist and the flamenco form, and there he’ll be, for your viewing pleasure.

This translation isn’t mine — I found it somewhere on the web, already translated [into English, I presume] by the outstanding French expert Pierre Lefranc.


by Norberto Torres Cortés

The year 2000 opens with an event for years undreamed of by guitar players, aficionados, and music lovers in general: the release in the form of videos of most of the archives of Spanish Television (Televisión Española) concerning flamenco guitar.

They range from the year 1964 with Niño Ricardo, Ricardo Modrego, and a then 16-year old Paco de Lucía, to Tomatito at his most gypsy in the 1979 record La Leyenda del Tiempo.  In between they include Serranito, Manolo Sanlúcar, Enrique de Melchor, Pepe Habichuela, Diego Carrasco, Paco Cepero, Andrés Batista, Pedro Bacán, Paco de Lucía and Camarón in 1972, together with those classically-oriented: Melchor de Marchena, Diego del Gastor, Manuel Morao, Pedro Peña, Felix de Utrera, Manolo el Sevillano, and… Sabicas “live” in one of the last concerts he gave. Thus a total of 16 years of flamenco guitar are made available visually.

The period 1964-1979 was an extraordinary one for flamenco, owing to the coexistence of tradition and a rising new generation, then innovative, now classical, which was establishing the foundations of today’s toque (style of playing). If we add to this the interviews and commentaries made in those days, mainly by José María Velázquez and Fernando Quiñones, we can evaluate the undreamed of magnitude of what is being offered to us by Alga Editores.

Although, unavoidably, most of the images are in black and white, and the sound is of a less high quality than it would be today, one can submit that this is an added merit: it brings us in contact with the authenticity of a period in which the detestable “play-back” was not yet a standard technique.


NIÑO RICARDO, PACO DE LUCÍA:  “Poema de la Guitarra”, from the program FLAMENCO, Antología de Cante y Baile Andaluces — includes “Sevilla es mi tierra” (Soleá) by Manuel Serrapi Sánchez ‘Niño Ricardo’ (Sevilla, 1904-72); guajira flamenca by Paco de Lucía and Ricardo Modrego; and views of Paco de Lucía practicing in a barber’s shop.

PACO DE LUCÍA: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante — includes an interview of Francisco Sánchez Gómez ‘Paco de Lucía’ (born Algeciras, 1947), and shows him playing Tarantas, Bulerías, and accompanying his brother Pepe de Lucía; Camarón playing Bulerías; Paco practicing; Ramón de Algeciras and Paco de Lucía fine-tuning a Bulerías falseta (variation), playing Soleares, and Rumbas with Carlos Rebato as a second guitar.

PEPE MARTÍNEZ: interview of José Martínez León ‘Pepe Martínez’ (Sevilla, 1923-84), who is then seen playing a Granaína, interpreting the choros “Xodó da Bahiana” by the Brasilian composer Dilermando Reis, giving guitar classes, and playing a Colombianas, a Zapateado, and a Guajiras in D major with the sixth string in D.


A moving recording of Niño Ricardo in Soleáres, and the earliest images of Paco de Lucía, at sixteen, already preparing his future records with Ricardo Mondrego, with a stunning Guajira in which one can already find one of the variations of his famous “Guajira de Lucía”.  Also, from the Flamenco program of Spanish Television, images shot in 1964 under the guidance of Antonio Sánchez Pecino, the father of Paco de Lucía.  It may be owing to this that Paco is particularly prominent in the series (we even see him dressed up as a barber in a barber’s shop, practicing Tarantos), and we believe that his guitar can also be heard in the video’s opening, in nothing less than Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D flat (BMW 565).

The program dedicated to Paco de Lucía comes from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante, shot between 1971 and 1973, and it can be dated 1972.  We hear him in Taranta variations found in his records Fantasía (1969), La Fabulosa Guitarra de Paco de Lucía (1967), a forerunner of Fuente y Caudal (1973), and other pieces then still unpublished; he also plays Bulería variations from ”El Tempul”, “Plazuela”, and “Punta del Faro”, and accompanies Pepe de Lucía in the grip of duende (flamenco exaltation); we see him at home in his pajamas, in a practice session with Camarón, working alone on the Taranta and accompanying Pepe de Lucía “Fuente y Caudal”, and fine-tuning with his brothers Pepe de Lucía and Ramón a Bulería variation found in one of the early records of Camarón.

The series continues with the Soleares “Cuando canta el gallo” and the Zapateado from the record El Duende de Paco de Lucía, and it ends with a Rumba halfway between the “Rumba Improvisada” from the 1971 record Recital and “Entre Dos Aguas” from Fuente y Caudal (1973) which belies the legend of this famous piece having been improvised and shows that all that Paco de Lucía recorded was the outcome of earlier maturations.

Another pleasant surprise in this video n° 1 is the possibility of listening to Pepe Martínez, a great concert-oriented flamenco guitarist as was Ramón Montoya, and now unjustly neglected. The interviews enable us to evaluate the impact of Pepe Martínez in London and the eminent role that he played in spreading the knowledge of flamenco in Great Britain. All this is a delight for the lovers of the classical toque, and the Colombiana and the Guajira in D major offer a particular homage to Sabicas.


MELCHOR DE MARCHENA: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante; Melchor Jiménez Torres ‘Melchor de Marchena’ (Marchena, 1907 – Madrid, 1980) is shown with his family in Marchena, playing Seguiriyas, being interviewed, accompanying Manolo Caracol and Beni de Cádiz in Fandangos, playing Tanguillos de Cádiz; then his son Enrique plays Soleares and Melchor concludes them with a variation of his own.

ENRIQUE DE MELCHOR: from the program Flamenco, in color, presented by Fernando Quiñones — Enrique Jiménez Ramírez ‘Enrique de Melchor’ (b. Marchena 1950) with Luis (bass), Pedro (flute), Josele (flamenco guitar), Martín (bongos), playing Colombianas, in an interview, playing Bulerias in the tonality of Tarantos, and playing Rondeñas.

From another and earlier program, also presented by Fernando Quiñones, we hear José Cobos and Paco Heredia (guitars); then follow an interview, a Serranas, and Rondeñas with the same Cobos and Heredia.


These are historic and moving images of the toque and speech of Melchor de Marchena, one of the greatest of all accompanists for singers and the one preferred by La Niña de Los Peines, Manolo Caracol, Antonio Mairena, etc., to name just a few of those he accompanied.  The video concludes with two programs devoted to Melchor’s son Enrique de Melchor.  They can be dated 1974 and 1977 (for the one in color); they are from the time of the launching of Enrique’s concert career, and we see him interpret various pieces of his first record as a soloist, La Guitarra Flamenca de Enrique de Melchor (1977).


PACO CEPERO: From the program Flamenco presented by Fernando Quiñones – Francisco López Cepero García ‘Paco Cepero’ (b. Jerez 1932) plays “Gaditana” (a Jaleo) with La Polilla de Madrid, Lolita Baena and Carmen Heredia (palmas), then is interviewed, then plays Tarantas and Tarantos, Tientos and Tangos, a Farruca, “Amuleto” (a Rumba), and Bulerías.

DIEGO CARRASCO: from the program Flamenco, in color, presented by Fernando Quiñones — Diego Carrasco Fernández ‘Diego Carrasco el Tate’ (b. Jérez 1954) is accompanied by Luis (acoustic Ovation guitar), Miguel Angel (bass), Pedro (flute), Tito and Rafa (flamenco guitars), and Pedro (bongos); they interpret ”Luz de Farola” (Bulerías); he is then interviewed, and sings and plays Bulerías, including “Bulerías del 7″.

ANDRÉS BATISTA: presented by F. Quiñones, who interviews flamenco authority Paco Vallecillo, then Andrés Batista (b. Barcelona 1937) on flamenco in Catalonia; then Andrés Batista plays Granaínas, Guajiras, Bulerías, Danza Mora, Fandangos, and a Zapateado.


Together with the launching of Enrique de Melchor, we witness Paco Cepero’s career as a soloist, and hear him perform various pieces found in his first and only record as a soloist, Amuleto (1977).  Also, the unquiet tocaor and singer Diego Carrasco already proposes, in these late 70’s, a reinterpretation of the Bulerías of his native Santiago district, with influences from Chick Corea’s group “Return to Forever” and a markedly oriental coloring which makes us think of the present group Radio Tarifa, and of the theme “Reino de Silia” by Vicente Amigo in the estribillos (refrains) of the “Bulerías  del 7″ which served as introduction theme for the program Flamenco presented by Fernando Quiñones.

Then Andres Batista, the Gypsy guitar-player from Catalonia, describes the hotbed of flamenco experimentation that was the Catalonia of the 70’s (which explains the present fertility of Catalonian flamenco) and performs six pieces of a classical turn in a modern technique.


PEPE HABICHUELA: introduced by F. Quiñones — José Antonio Carmona Carmona ‘Pepe Habichuela’ (b. Granada 1944) performs Soleares, is interviewed, plays Alegrías in E major, Taranto, Seguiriya, and Tangos with Carlos Carmona ‘Habichuela’ and Benjamín Santiago (guitar players).

From Flamenco (in color), we are given Bulerías with Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’ (guitar), Jaleo in the tonality of a Minera with Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’ (guitar), Guadiana, Chocolatillo, and Ángel (palmas).

VICTOR MONGE ‘SERRANITO’: introduced by F. Quiñones — Victor Monge Serrano ‘Serranito’ (b. Madrid 1942) is heard in a Taranta, Soleáres, an interview, in “Popular Themes” and a Zapateado with Alejandro Winia and Manolo Sison (guitar players).


We are first given a black-and-white Pepe Habichuela at the outset of his career as a soloist at the beginning of the 70’s, with toques still influenced by his brother Juan, Sabicas, and Paco de Lucía, though his special mark already emerges (particularly in Soleáres); then the same Pepe Habichuela in color, at the end of the 70’s, with his personality now better defined and matured, is heard in toques from his first record A Mandelí (1983) and of the record Despegando which he made in 1977 with Enrique Morente.  The second guitar is that of his nephew, then known as Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’, who later became Juan Carmona ‘El Camborio’, and is today the established leader of the Ketama group.

The video ends with fascinating images of the astonishing Serranito, “a guitar-player for guitar-players”, in full possession of his virtuosity: Tarantas and Soleáres played solo, “Popular Themes” which are nothing else than the Tarara on a Tientos rhythm and in E minor, and his famous Zapateado for three guitars, “Punta y Tacón”.


DIEGO DEL GASTOR: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante — Diego Flores Amaya ‘Diego del Gastor’ (Arriate, Málaga, 1908 – Morón de La Frontera, Sevilla, 1973) is heard in Alegrías, an interview, and Seguiriyas.  He then accompanies por Bulería (in the rhythm of Bulerias) a series of Alboreás sung by Joselero de Morón, and plays Soleares.

TOMATITO: from the program Flamenco in color, presented by F. Quiñones – José Fernández Torres ‘Tomatito’ (born Almería 1958), together with Jorge Pardo (flute), Carlos Benavent (bass), Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’, Rubén Dantas (percussions), Romerito de Algeciras, Guadiana, José Soto ‘Sordera’, Tino de Madrid (palmas), are heard in Bulerías, an interview, in Bulerías in the tonality of a Taranto, and in tangos.

MISCELLANY N°1, WITH MANUEL MORAO, PEDRO BACÁN, PACO DE LUCÍA, MANOLO SANLÚCAR:   Interviews of Rafael del Aguila (Jérez, 1900-76); Manuel Moreno Jiménez ‘Manuel Morao’ (b. Jérez 1929) plays Soleáres; Pedro Peña Fernández ‘Pedro Bacán’ (Lebrija, 1939-1997) plays Tarantas; Paco de Lucía plays Bulerías; the cantaor Juan Peña ‘El Lebrijano’ is interviewed; Manuel Muñoz Alcón ‘Manolo Sanlúcar’ (b. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, 1945) plays Seguiriyas.


Again we see moving images of the legendary Diego del Gastor shortly before his death, taking a walk in Morón, in a gathering with friends, talking about the toque, interpreting Alegrías, Seguiriyas, and Soleáres solo, and accompanying his cousin Joselero in Bulerías in masterly fashion and with a duende worthy of his legend.

Tomatito, emerging from his recent recording of La Leyenda del Tiempo (1979) with Camarón, interprets various rhythmic pieces with the intensely Gypsy expression which sets him apart from all others, accompanied by a first version of the Paco de Lucía sextet, Juan Carmona the second guitar of the Ketama group, and the palmas of the no less famous celebrities of today: Guadiana, José Soto ‘Sorderita’ (then ‘Sotito de Jérez’) and Tino.

Then follows an interview of Rafael del Aguila, the disciple of Javier Molina and master of the current generation of Jérez guitar-players; Manuel Morao in one of the earliest expressions of that unmistakable Jérez toque; a youthful Pedro Bacán interpreting with great virtuosity one of his earliest Tarantas; Paco de Lucía in Bulerías accompanied by Camarón’s knuckles in a flamenco gathering; Turronero and Paco Cepero; Juan Peña ‘el Lebrijano’, then a youthful upholder of the classical flamenco tradition, expressing his opinion on the toque of the early 70’s; Manolo Sanlúcar playing por Seguiriya his ‘Elegia al Niño Ricardo’, the master who had just died when this recording was made in 1972 (Sanlúcar recorded this piece that same year in vol. 2 of his Mundo y Formas de la Guitarra Flamenca).  These documents form a superb miscellany which illustrates the coexistence of the traditional toque and the renewal then in its early stages.


MISCELLANY N° 2 — WITH MANUEL MORAO, MELCHOR DE MARCHENA, PEDRO PEÑA, PACO DE LUCÍA, DIEGO DEL GASTOR: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante, with Manuel Morao playing Seguiriyas, Melchor de Marchena playing Tarantos, an interview of Pedro Peña who sings and plays Soleáres, Paco de Lucía playing Rondeñas, and Diego del Gastor playing Bulerías.

MISCELLANY N° 3 — WITH FELIX DE UTRERA, CONDE HERMANOS, MANUEL MORAO, MANOLO SEVILLANO: from the series Flamenco, Antología de Cantes y Bailes Andaluces, Felix de Utrera is heard playing Tientos; comments on the making of guitars in the workshop of the brothers Conde; Manuel Morao plays Seguiriyas; El Calderas de Salamanca (song) and Manolo Sevillano (guitar) are heard in Peteneras, and Juan Cantero (song), Matilde España (dance) and Manolo el Sevillano (guitar) in Tangos.

SABICAS:  a performance in homage to Sabicas, on the occasion of his demise in 1990, with views of his funeral and of Pamplona; Sabicas in Alegrías in A minor and in “Temas del Pueblo”, la Niña de la Puebla, Pepe Montoya ‘Montoyita’, and Laura Toledo evoke Sabicas who plays “La Comparsita” and a Granaína.


The Miscellany which opens this video completes that of the previous one by illustrating several toques by traditionalists and solos by the current renovators, with some curious shots of the guitar-player-cum-singer Pedro Peña Fernández ‘Pedro Peña’ (b. Lebrija, 1939), father of the piano-player Dorantes, brother of the singer Juan Peña ‘El Lebrijano’, and cousin of Pedro Bacán.  Pedro Peña achieves the feat of singing and accompanying himself in Soleares, with his mother La Perrata embroidering on the rhythm with her knuckles.

We also see Paco de Lucía performing his famous Rondeña “Doblan Campanas” from the record El Duende (1972); he concludes it here with the ending of his quote; from earlier Rondeña recorded in La Fabulosa Guitarra (1967) and revealingly includes allusions to the Rondeña “Cueva del Gato” which he recorded four or five years later in Almoraima (1976): one more proof that maturity came to Paco de Lucía before he made records.

The last miscellany shows us the “official” guitar-player of Hispavox, Felix García Vizcaíno ‘Felix de Utrera’ (born in the Canaries 1929), playing Tientos, a la Niño Ricardo; it takes us on a visit to the workshop of the Madrid guitar-makers Hermanos Conde, against the musical background of a Zorongo played by Ricardo Modrego; Manuel Morao at his most sublime in Seguiriyas; the toque of Manuel Antilla León ‘Manolo el Sevillano’ (Marchena 1910 – Madrid 1988), accompanying Felix on Peteneras Rafael Salazar Motos ‘Calderas de Salamanca’, and Juan Cantero in Tangos Extremeños danced by Matilde España.

The series could not end better than by rendering homage to Agustín Castellón Campos ‘Sabicas’ (Pamplona 1912 – New York, 18 April 1990) one of the greatest guitarists of all times, with a report on his native town and house, his multitudinous and grief-stricken funeral, an evocation of his friends and admirers like la Niña de la Puebla, Montoyita and Laura Toledo, and various extracts from one of the last concerts Sabicas gave, with his famous Alegrías in A major which incline towards the jota, “Temas del Pueblo”, the popular tune “Los Cuatro Muleros” as arranged by the master, the most famous Río de la Plata tango by M. Rodríguez ‘La Comparsita’, which the Gypsy from Pamplona included in 1969 in his record Tres guitarras tiene Sabicas, and a tremendously modern Granaína.

End of Norberto Torres description of “Rito y Geografia de la Guitarra” Flamenca”.

Gracias, Norberto.  And I can’t help noticing that the  magical keyword for flamenco greatness of expression appears in only one instance, repeated here:  ”Again we see moving images of the legendary Diego del Gastor shortly before his death, taking a walk in Morón, in a gathering with friends, talking about the toque, interpreting Alegrías, Seguiriyas, and Soleáres solo, and accompanying his cousin Joselero in Bulerías in masterly fashion and with a duende worthy of his legend.”

So it ain’t just us gringos.

Brook Zern

January 10, 2014   No Comments

Camarón’s historic record “La leyenda del tiempo” reissued in 35th Anniversary edition – article by Javier Herrero – translated with comments by Brook Zern

An article by Javier Herrero in today’s edition of the online publication lainformacion.com tells the story of the reissuing of Camarón de la Isla’s historic flamenco-fusion recording “La leyenda del tiempo” on its 35th anniversary.  It’s at this endless url:   http://noticias.lainformacion.com/arte-cultura-y-espectaculos/musica-rock-and-roll/ricardo-pachon-dice-que-nunca-vi-a-camaron-mas-feliz-que-con-la-leyenda-del-tiempo_fWhBE2hcPVP9LOVPydudT1/

Here’s my translation, followed by some snarky comments:

Headline:  Ricardo Pachón says he “never saw Camarón happier than when he recorded ‘La leyenda del tiempo’”

Ricardo Pachón, the producer of  “La leyenda del tiempo”, never saw [the great flamenco singer] Camarón de la Isla as happy as he was during the creation of that emblematic record, which is being reissued 35 years after it broadened the horizon of flamenco worldwide with its look towards rock that anticipated [another crucial innovative recording], Enrique Morente’s “Omega”.

“What we did had never been done before, because 35 years ago I had no idea how to mix a recording and I was totally confused,” Pachón said to [Spain’s national news agency] EFE in which he emphasized the “reconstruction” techniques used for this album, Camarón’s most important along with “Soy gitano” of 1989, including the removal of the excess of “reverb” so characteristic of that era.

The person charged with “cleaning the painting” without changing its face, with “restoring it and doing justice to this keystone of Spanish music”, was Juan de Dios Martín, the producer of famous Spanish rock artists including Amaral and Rubén Pozo, which is especially evident in his work with the drum and bass parts.

He worked under the supervision of Pachón, who was responsible for many of the singer’s recordings including the original version of “La leyenda del tiempo”, and he said of the album’s cover, the removal of “de la Isla” from the singer’s name leaving just “Camarón” in a typographic logo that, he confesses, was inspired by the American group Chicago.

Thanks to his work in cleaning up the original tapes with the voice of Camarón and the guitar of Tomatito, it is now possible to hear details that had been lost in that “ball of sound”, such as the flamenco dance footwork in the alegrías titled “Bahia de Cádiz” or “the way Camarón swallows saliva and clears his throat”.

“La leyenda del tiempo”, published in 1979, became a “disco bisagra” [a "door hinge recording" opening up music to broader horizons], like the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper””, Pachón has said.

“We lived in a divine unawareness [“inconciencia”]; we were having a wonderful time ["disfrutando"] with ideas for new songs, and I never saw Camarón happier and more “entregado” [delivering everything he had].  We didn’t know that this record would be transcendent, and perhaps because of this we made it happen,” he recalls.

The album stood out on one hand for its literary aspect, with verses by Kiko Veneno (author of the album’s mythical “Volando voy”) and by [the great poet from Morón de la Frontera] Fernando Villalon as well as Omar Khayyam, and with surrealist texts by Federico García Lorca at a time which almost no one had set that poets words to music, including the title song/poem, suggested, curiously, by a Danish cathedral.

It also stood out musically, featuring the participation of Tomatito [who had taken over the role of Camarón’s main accompanist from the supreme modern flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía when Paco committed to frequent world tours], Jorge Pardo [on bass], the guitarists Rafael and Ramón Amador [pioneers of rock/flamenco guitar fusion], and, most curious of all, the progressive rock musicians from the group Alameda.

“With the arrival of Camarón, who was the prince of the Gypsies, the model to be followed, it was clear that the doors had been thrown open, and from that point on, flamenco artists began to experiment with other instruments without any complexes [a reference to previous self-doubts due to the negative responses of many traditionalists to such profound changes in the essential nature of flamenco music.]

It was not the first of the records in which Pachón tested this marriage, an obsession born with the record “Rock Encounter” of Sabicas and Joe Beck, and which led to his work with the groups Smash, Lole y Manuel, and Pata Negra.

“I recently read that “Omega”, from 2006, more or less created flamenco rock, according to the writer; but historically and in fairness, one must point out that “Rock Gitano” by Pata Negra and Camarón’s “La leyenda del tiempo” came first,” Pachón says.

The re-release appears in several formats, with a “superdeluxe” limited edition including the CD and a 180-gram vinyl version as well as a DVD with the documentary “Tiempo de leyenda”, a 60-page book with previously unseen photos and comments from the press of the era.

“La leyenda del tiempo” had a small initial run at first; the Gypsies “lo aceptaron fatal” [hated it] and the camaroneros [Camarón fans] thought that their idol had gone nuts, but he just laughed at all that,” Pachón recalls about this extremely shy and humble artist who, in spite of this, became “a Gypsy myth” – noting that in his opinion, “this would become one of the elements responsible for his later ruin.”

End of article

A pretty interesting piece about a monumental recording.  Of course, when all is said and done, the URL given above shows that the article appears in the Rock and Roll Music section of this online publication.

When I was living in Seville in the mid-sixties, I knew more about rock and roll than anyone else in town, though that wasn’t saying a whole lot.

(Before I left the U.S., I had the weird fantasy of becoming, well, sort of, well, a music critic, but writing about rock music – yeah, that’s it, a “rock critic”.  But since there was no such thing, I decided not pursue that line of employment.)

Anyway, I was in Seville for the flamenco.  But the day after I arrived, the members of the future above-mentioned pioneering rock group Smash showed up at my door, noted that I was an American with a guitar, and asked me to show them how to rock and roll.

I said I didn’t actually know how to rock and roll, and my guitar was just a flamenco guitar.  They were pretty disappointed, of course, but accepted my offer to rehearse on the big top-floor terrace surrounding my small apartment.

(They were all good singers and instrumentalists, but they sounded awful because each of them was singing his own garbled version of imitation English.  So I wrote out a big phonetic-Spanish version of the actual words – AY JUANA JOLD EUR JAND…, and suddenly they were all in vocal sync and sounded terrific.  The group morphed into Los Murcielagos and then to Smash, and the rest is history.  And I was recently delighted when their lead man, the fabled musical genius Gualberto García, invited me to come see him in Seville.)

The article mentions Sabicas’s record “Flamenco Rock Encounter”, which Pachón wasn’t involved in.  It was a nervy idea, far ahead of its time, but it was a musical failure — not a real collaboration but just a mishmash of Joe Beck’s rock guitar with Sabicas’s great flamenco music.  Sabicas,who had no grasp or interest in rock, told me was embarrassed by it.  The two artists never even met, much less jammed, or so he said.

Pachón takes issue with the notion that Enrique Morente’s “Omega” was the first flamenco rock record.  In some elite flamenco circles, the late Morente is held in greater esteem than Camarón.  It’s not an argument I care about, because I prefer actual flamenco.

(For any Spaniards trying to read this – please note that “actual flamenco” in English means “real flamenco or “authentic flamenco”, whatever that may be; but “actual flamenco” or “flamenco actual” in Spanish means present-day or up-to-the-minute flamenco, which has the opposite connotation – it will probably feature lots of drums and horns and choruses and whatever.)  And yes, both Camarón and Morente made their bones in the discriminating and rigid realm of traditional flamenco before they transcended or violated its boundaries.

One of Pachon’s pet projects, Pata Negra, with the hip guitarslinging Amadors, had a cut called “Blues de la Frontera”, indebted to the soniquete or groove of Morón de la Frontera, which quotes a characteristic bulerías guitar falseta by Diego del Gastor.

That’s nice.  But Pachón also ended up with a fabulous treasure trove of private tape recordings made by the late American guitarist Chris Carnes and his wife, the singer Moreen Carnes – the only American woman to make a real flamenco record (and  accompanied by the magnificent player Melchor de Marchena, yet.)

It would be really, really nice if Señor Pachón saw fit to release a good chunk of the hundreds of hours of that great collection of legendary singers (Juan Talega, Manolito de la María, Antonio Mairena, Fernanda de Utrera…) backed by Morón guitarists including Diego and Paco del Gastor as well as many fine out-of-towners.

If anyone can pull enough strings to make that happen, it would be Ricardo Pachón.  And if an official release is impossible as well as presumably unprofitable, it would be good to accidentally leak a well-mastered bunch of stuff into the flamenco community, or at least the dwindling subset of people who love such antiquated caterwauling from the era before allegedly flamenco records appeared in the Rock and Roll section of newspapers.

Such an release would not please everyone.  But it would be a victory for posterity.

Brook Zern - brookzern@gmail.com

December 10, 2013   2 Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Tomatito Speaks – Interview from Aireflamenco.com by Jaci González – Translated, with random rants, by Brook Zern

One of the best Spanish websites for flamenco is www.aireflamenco.com.  The edition for March 16 has an interview by Jaci González with the great guitarist Tomatito, titled “Tomatito is flamenco, and much more as well”.

Now, if you don’t read Spanish but would still like to cut me out of the loop, it seems you can just push the Google Translate / English button on top to have it converted into – well, something akin to English, although often utterly incoherent,  as is almost inevitable where an arcane subject like flamenco is involved.

Today, for the first time, I pushed that button. It seems Tomatito says in part, “In my house, a count, played by seguiriya.  I took two unpublished letters of shrimp…” “I do not want a letter of shrimp, and come dwell.  I wanted a bill of shrimp, a falsetto, and now.” “We’ll talk to the evolution of shrimp in those years even.”

This, believe it or not, is much better than robotranslations used to be, but it still leaves something to be desired, unless you happen to be a paleobiologist specializing in crustacea except during odd-numbered years.

(In my confident belief that I can out-translate the latest billion-dollar Google algorithm, I remind myself of another superhero of story and song in whose giant footsteps I follow.  Yes, you guessed it:  I’m just like the legendary John Henry, last of the steel-driving men, who decided to prove he could outperform the first steam drill.  And he, like me, triumphed..  And yes, people will remember me always: “He died with his keyboard in his hand, Lord, Lord, died with his keyboard in his hand.”)

(It sounds better than “He died with his laptop on his lap,” don’t you think?)

Where was I?  Oh, yes: Here’s the article as I understood it:

Headline:  Tomatito is flamenco, and so much more

After his CD’s “Spain Again”, with [Dominican jazz pianist and composer] Michel Camilo, and “Sonanta Suite” with the National Orchestra of Spain, Tomatito has just completed a project that is essential in his professional trajectory: “Soy flamenco”.  Nearly a decade after his last recording on which flamenco was the main protagonist, he has returned to prove that he is one of the principal artists within a universal art, and an indispensable reference point for the flamenco guitar.  Because Tomatito, in his roots and in his origin, is flamenco.  That’s what he told us on an end-of-winter afternoon in Clan, a flamenco restaurant in Madrid…

Q:  What does “Soy Flamenco” (literally “I Am Flamenco”) mean for you?

A:  That title came to me because, among recent developments, I’ve just made a CD with the Spanish National Orcestra and another with Michel Camilo…  The last actual flamenco record I made was “Aguadulce”, and this is like returning again.  It means that I am flamenco, I have never left my roots or my way of playing.

Q:  “Soy Flamenco” is also the title of the bulerías that opens the album, where Mari Angeles (Tomatito’s young daughter) sings better than we do.

A:  Ha, ha – she does it with such love, singing with her father.  It was a nice touch; I’m her dad, so she agreed.  I hope the public likes it, and thinks it’s pretty.

Q:  This time around you’ve created several bulerías, but coming at them from different conceptual standpoints, different paths…

A:  In the first one, “Soy Flamenco”, I did an introduction using tremolo [a technique rarely used in bulerías], a little melody, and the falsetas [melodic variations] are done on just one guitar, with Mari Angeles singing, followed by little choruses with Kiki, my son-in-law, who’s from Galicia.  The second bulerías is titled “Despacito” [“Slowly, slowly”] because I wanted it to have a less pronounced rhythmic pulse; and I invited Guadiana to compose a little verse [letrita]…

Q:  “Despacito” is seemingly less rhythmic, but it has its “punto habanero” [referring to a Cuban feel.]

A:  Yes, exactly – half Cuban, with some little notes jumping over from that country.  The other bulerías is dedicated to Moraíto [the great Jerez guitarist who died young last year], and I play [overdub] two guitars, something like “If you were here, you’d play along with me”; I wanted to dedicate it to him with all my respect and all my love and affection [cariño], as if we were playing together.

Q:  There’s also that ferocious [bestial] bulerías with Paco de Lucía and Camarón [the great singer who died in 1992 – his name, incidentally, means “the shrimp”].  How did that come about?

A:  Well, I was listening to a hard disc with songs by Camarón, and this was originally a tangos [a flamenco form with a very different rhythmic pattern or compás].  With Protools [a music program] we made a claqueta [maybe a rhythmic click-track, onto which music can be superimposed].  And I said, “Paco, I’m doing this, just in case you’re tempted…”  Paco was tied up with a record of coplas [sentimental Spanish popular songs, very popular in the forties and fifties and enjoying a renaissance ever since Miguel Poveda, perhaps Spain’s favorite flamenco singer, devoted a smash-hit record to them] – but he said, “Well, if I’m tempted; okay, send it to me.”  I did, and he made the arrangement at home, putting the verses into the timing; then we played the guitars together, and its priceless [precioso].  Technically, it’s really done by hand – you have to know just where to put everything.  It’s not mechanical or machine-like, though it was done using a machine; it was a matter of putting it in the right place.  It was a process that took many hours of work – many hours.  One day, then the next day, until everything was in its place and it could be played like a bulerías.

Q:  Tremendous…

A:  Tremendous, but lovely work.

Q:  Then, suddenly a monumental siguiriyas with Camarón.

A:  In my house, with a click-track, I played a siguiriyas.  Then I took two unpublished verses by Camarón, from those I have recorded but have never been released on records or anywhere.  I worked on it at home, alone.  I did a little introduction, a falseta…I wanted the siguiriyas to be, as the title indicates, “The Present”, a gift.  I didn’t want to do a siguiriyas on guitar and then have a verse by Camarón, and venga explayarme.  What I wanted was an introduction, a verse, a falseta, and that’s it [“y ya” = “y ya está”].  But then I found another verse that seemed to be for a bulerías, and I put it into the siguiriyas form, and that’s when I said that it was all done.

Q:  In this newly revealed siguiriyas of Camarón, you show another facet of yourself, because it’s one thing to be a guitar soloist, but what we have here is the fine accompanist for singers, which is a whole different story.  To give room for the gift.

A:  That’s what I wanted to do, a gift for the afición, for the lovers of Camarón [camaroneros].  And judging from those who’ve heard it, I thing they are grateful.

Q:  An odd thing:  Camarón, twenty years later, is singing better than ever.  We can now talk of the evolution of his art even in this new era.

A:  Yes, even now we are talking about things like “did you see the special touch [detalle] that he adds here?”  “Look at the salida [entrance] he does here here!”  For instance, in the siguiriyas, this way of vocalizing – I know that the Camarón fanatics will go nuts…

Q:  The siguiriyas is enough to drive you crazy.

A:  Yes, yes, it’s like “What is this?” “What’s that?”  I’m happy, and happy for the afición as well.  You can say that even now, people listen closely to Camarón.

Q:  In most cases when you move away from flamenco to other musical terrains, it has been very jazzístico [“jazzistic”].  But this time, when we come to George Benson, instead of recalling his jazziest things, you go more toward his pop and funk side, as in numbers like “Breezin’” – at the same time, the music is very much in your own domain.  Did you suddenly wake up one morning with this idea?

A:  More specifically, Benson for me is the guitarist who does funk [hace el funky] better than anyone else.  The way he sings, the way he plays, its beautiful the way he phrases; he’s my idol.  But of course, the language and the tonality is always quite distinct, but you don’t want to do a jazz piece.  But okay, in this style he has already done it in jazz, better than anyone.  I wanted to do a funky piece that evokes Benson, but in the flamenco tonality – in the Phrygian mode and the harmonies that the flamencos use, without going into the major key.  In the flamenco tonality, pure and simple [puro y duro = pure and hard/tough].

Q:  El Maca in this piece is “sembrao”, and Corti, too.

A:  El Maca is a great bassist who understands un vey well, and El Cortina also has a good vibe.

Q:  The project closes with a version of “Our Spain”, the piece that was done fifteen years ago by Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny in “Beyond the Missouri Sky”.  How did you think up this closing touch?”

A:  I like Youtube a lot, and one day I was checking out Metheny’s stuff and heard this piece that sounded very Spanish, like Spanish canción.  I began playing it, and saw that I like it, that it was easy on the ear, and pretty.  Because I’m always so curious, I had to stick my foot in it…ha, ha, then it occurred to me that, well, in every recording I do, I have to put my foot into jazz in one way or another!

Q:  Your version also has an unusual aspect, because the original is a duo between Metheny’s guitar and Charlie’s contrabass, and you’ve done it with Javier Colina on contrabass but also with the piano arrangements that Alfonso Pérez plays.

A:  That was an idea from Josep Salvador, a friend of mine.  I asked him for some criteria about this.  We went to Cinearte, I did it with Colina and Alfonso Pérez, and then I called a Cuban drummer friend.  Josep Salvador helped me a lot – you know who I’m talking about, the guitarist who went on tour with Alejandro Sanz…

Q:  Of course, he goes on all of Sanz’s tours.

A:  Exactly.

Q:  How do you see the future of flamenco?

A:  It looks fine to me, as long as there are artists who defend it, with clear ideas about what flamenco really is.  For example, you can do a lot of things on the guitar, but you need a clear sense of flamenco identity, for when you want to come back to it.  When you play for a singer, a soleá is a soleá, and the same for a siguiriyas or a tarantas.  The guitar has a lot of places to go, but you must know exactly where you are at all times.

Q:  Will the day finally come when we have a flamenco guitar with a foldable neck – the Airport Friendly Flamenco Guitar [in English]?

A:  Ha, ha – maybe, because they are putting so many obstacles in the way of getting guitars onto planes.  When that kind of guitar comes out…For those of us who travel, we’d certainly have to buy it.  ¡Por cojones!  [Perhaps as in, “They have us by the…” well, you get the gist.]  Ha, ha, ha.

Q:  Life can be tough at times.

A.  True enough – they tell you that you buy a ticket for your guitar or they’ll put it down in the baggage compartment.  I’m going to London on the 19th, and they’re telling me that I should put it in one of the cases I have at home, that it’s fatal to carry it on – or buy it a ticket, or something.  Before, you just put the guitar up in the overhead, and it fit perfectly, but no longer.

Q:  Tomatito’s dream?

A:  Health, and a good life for all, so we can listen to music with more love and fewer problems.

End of translation of Jaci González’s interview with Tomatito.

It’s always nice when flamenco guitarists stumble back from wherever they’ve been and dip their toes into actual flamenco.  Tomatito has always been insatiable in his need to break free from the confines of the art.

In the seventies, when he was a kid in Málaga, Tomatito met my American friend Carlos Lomas who knew a lot about music in general.  Carlos had done an album that was half Arabic oud and half flamenco guitar and would later record the world’s first real flamenco fusion album (or so it seems to me – see the blog entry about Carlos and the record, called “Adelante” or “Forward”.)  Carlos showed him a lot flamenco and a lot of other music, which he absorbed with prodigious aplomb, and he still remembers Carlos with respect and affection.

In 1961, my father had a friend who lived in Woodstock and went around the country collecting folk music.  Since the 1940’s, my father had been learning flamenco guitar from a gentleman named Fidel Zabal, who was a close friend of Sabicas.  Together, my father and his friend made private recordings of Fidel and of Sabicas, virtually the only documents of Sabicas’s playing in that decade.

Why am I telling you this?  Because my father’s friend had a bunch of guitars, and one of them was an early-twentieth-century Ramirez, perhaps by Manuel, with a neck that was cut off near the body and reattached with a door hinge.  I played it, it worked, and it sounded good.  It had its own special case, not much bigger than a briefcase, that would fit into any overhead compartment, well, except Ryanair’s.

Why was this idea forgotten, and why has it taken a half-century for someone to refloat this invention as the Airport Friendly Flamenco Guitar?   Why are people so stupid?

What?  You say I should have had the brains to patent and market the door-hinge guitar back then, so I could’ve afforded to retire now?

And you also think I’m being too cranky about the jazzophilia that is plaguing flamenco guitarists these days?  Well,  the same publication has a March 19th article that says you can hear the world’s greatest flamenco guitarist by going to Vitoria, Spain on July 20th.

Needless to say, you probably won’t hear any flamenco guitar, or at least more than a few minutes of it.  Instead, you’ll see Paco de Lucía trying to figure out where Chick Corea’s head is at these days, in their first re-encounter since 2001, while Mr. Corea will give no sign that he’d like to learn any of the great flamenco music that Mr. de Lucía dispenses at will.

(Actually, the program will begin with Chick and his current quartet, The Vigil.  Then Paco does his thing with his Sextet, which was mostly his stunningly advanced and jazz-oriented flamenco when I saw the group in Boston last fall.  It concludes with the re-encounter, both men accompanied by that the report calls “sus bandas”, their bands).

(In Pretty Woman, yet another chick-flick I love, the sophisticated Mr. Gere takes the floozy Julia Roberts to an opera because he needs to be seen with someone attractive.  The curtain rises, the orchestra starts to play the overture, and Julia Roberts’ face lights up.  “Look”, she says.  “There’s a band!”

(Spoiler alert:  They get married.  IMHO, he marries far above his station – just sayin’.)

And my point, assuming I had one, is that it wasn’t a band at the opera.  It was an orchestra.  And when a flamenco guitarist goes onstage with a flamenco group, it is a flamenco group.  Unless – unless the flamenco guitarist has strayed so far from flamenco that the backing entity is that jazziest of ensembles, a band.

Yes, it’s a band.  But !Ojo! [Eye! – meaning “Pay attention!”] –  there is no such thing as a flamenco band.  That is an oxymorón.

Morón?  Did someone say Morón?  Bring back the sixties, I say, before Paco de Lucía invented harmony…and before Protools became an indispensable part of flamenco.

– Brook Zern     brookzern@gmail.com

March 20, 2013   1 Comment