Harmonia Mundi 987024
By Srajan Ebaen
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Flamenco guitarist Juan Gomez 'Chicuelo', student of brothers Manolo Sanlúcar and Isidro
Muñoz, has participated as a studio musician on various high-profile Flamenco albums by genre leaders
Tomatito, Duquende, Mayte Martín, Ginesa Ortega, Miguel Poveda and Juan Manual
Serra. He has contributed to the posthumous Orson Welles film "El Quijote", and regularly accompanies famous cantaores Enrique
Morente, Chano Lobato, Jose Mercé and Potito. He's also been the musical director of the Japanese dance group
Shohi-Kojima for over six years. Still, until now this brilliant young artist has never reached for the spotlight of a dedicated solo release.
Cómplices is that breakout release. And what an album it is. The bulería
"Cambalache" sports the incendiary exploits of the longhaired Duquende adding his trademark upper-register sandpaper vocals to the main theme. It fondly recalls his equally inspired session on Juan Carmona's
Borboreo. The tangos "A la Isla" injects celebrated young Cante Jondo singer Miguel
Poveda, and the Alegrías "Dulce sal" sees Juani double from palmas handclaps to ripping through the smoldering vocal solo.
But beyond these spine-tingling vocal accents, Cómplices is a guitar, not cante album. It merely relies on the traditional backup of the Peruvian Cajón slap box and double
palmas. There are three pure solo tracks, a Soléa, a Taranta and a Nana. The inclusion of Carlos Caro on violin on
"Cambalache" - and the appearance of piano (Albert Bové), sax (Xavier
Figuerola) and Latin percussion (Roger Blavia) on "BNC" - merely reflects Chicuelo's openness toward tasteful modernization. This follows the original precedent set by Paco de Lucia, then exploded by the likes of Rafael
Riqueni, Vicente Amigo and Gerardo Nuñez.
Any flamenco guitarist nowadays signed by a major label like Harmonia Mundi has to be endowed with monster chops to even be considered - that's a given. The story goes that Ottmar Liebert once desired to play with certain Flamenco greats. He received the cold shoulder with the command to go home and start practicing. And this doesn't downplay his appeal or popularity. It merely points at the immense technical mastery seen as ground zero requirement for the even more important expression of Flamenco's
duende. Not readily translated, it is the scrotum-tightening mystery of complete surrender to the art's innate fierceness. When it overtakes the performer and projects outwards, it's instantly recognized and savored by the cognoscenti. Usually, it has less to do with finesse and everything with rawness. It means purging the last iota of artifice, as though a Voudoun deity descended to possess the physicality of its surrendered human object. Now nearly unnatural or super-human movements are possible. They are devoid of deliberate self-generated efforts but often accompanied by painful emotions.
Cómplices ranges from the Ketama-esque Latin flavor of "BNC" to the wistful lullaby "Sheila", from the intricate compas of the
"Perigalla" Bulería to the edgy opener "Cambalache" with its matador machismo. From furious to introspective, from strutting to seductive,
Cómplices has mastered all the right moves for a straightaway home run. It sports the superior sonics one expects from Harmonia
Mundi. It should proudly take its place in any well-stocked Flamenco library that favors substance enhanced by technical brilliance over shallow flashiness and does not insist on narrow provincialism. In short, an essential Flamenco work by a thoughtful and gifted artist who seems to have patiently waited in the wings before he stepped forward under his own flag when he had something profound to contribute.