Gerado Nunez & Chano
Compact Disc: ACT Music + Vision, 9284-2
The flamenco scene in contemporary Spain has undergone tremendous expansion since Paco de Lucia first began injecting certain foreign stylistic elements and instruments into its classical milieu. Many of today's brightest flamenco guitarists and ensembles are farming the neighboring territories of Salsa and African (Ketama), Classical Indian (Amalgama), Moroccan (El Lebrijano), Rock (Pata Negra) and Jazz (Gerardo Nuňez, Juan Manual Caňizares, Rafael Riqueni). Especially the musical encounter with Jazz has precedents that predate Jazzpaňa II by decades - Sketches of Spain (Miles Davis and Gil Evans, 1959-60], Olé [John Coltrane, 1961] and My Spanish Heart [Chick Corea, 1976]. And of course there's Jazzpaňa I, the dual Grammy nomination 1993 release with Michael Brecker, Al Di Meola, Steve Khan and Peter Erskine on the Jazz side and Ramon "El Portugues", Juan Manuel Caňizares, Jorge Pardo and Carles Benavent on the Iberian side, and backed up by the West Deutsche Rundfunk Big Band.
Jazzpaňa II assembles an equally stellar ensemble, with a heavier emphasis on the flamenco contingent. This is led by performer/composers Gerardo Nuňez (flamenco guitar) and Chano Dominguez (Grotrian Steinweg piano), and filled out with Esperanza Fernandez (vocals on one track), Jorge Pardo (soprano sax), Carles Benavent (electric bass), Renauld Garcia-Fons (five-string acoustic upright bass), Tino Di Geraldo (drums) and Cepillo (cajon). The Jazz counterpart is headlined by Michael Brecker (tenor sax) and Fareed Haque (electric guitar) and rounded out with Perico Sambeat (alto sax).
The opening track "Calima" is from Nuňez' eponymous album [Alula Records 1007/1998] and translates appropriately as "Heat". It immediately sets the stage for what to expect. The silvery elegance of his immaculate guitar intro, properly accented by Cepillo's Peruvian cajon slapbox, spells classical flamenco puro. Benavent's simultaneous e-bass punctuations already suggest something more modern is afoot. This is quickly confirmed when the three saxes enter as a lively and heavily syncopated counter-chorus and the piano makes its appearance. Danilo Perez' piano improv -- part of the original quartet arrangement with John Patitucci on bass and Arto Tuncboyaciyan on percussion -- here gives way to Brecker's roaring tenor solo that brings to mind the hormone-crazed calls of a buck in heat.
The phenomenally gifted French bass maestro Renaud Garcia-Fons has previously visited flamenco terrain. There are his collaborations with guitarist Pedro Soler and his own release [Oriental Bass, Enja 9334-2/1997]. He has adapted his seemingly unwieldy instrument, especially con arco, into a kind of singing cello on steroids, and, if thus inspired, with very Andalucian origins. "Un Amor Real" is a workout between him and Nuňez that showcases how well the seemingly impossible – flamenco on double-bass -- can be pulled off if entrusted to the right performers.
On "Alma de Mujer", Chano Dominguez' piano intro segues straight into a bouncy Columbiana rhythm into which the saxophones of Sambeat and Pardo dig their jiving teeth. Fareed Haque does the honors on acoustic guitar and Dominguez' chromatic exploits venture where no traditional flamenco chord progressions would dare going.
"Jerez - Chicago" celebrates another unlikely juxtaposition. Jerez is not only the Spanish birthplace of Nuňez but practically synonymous with one of the cradles of Gitano flamenco. Chicago is the home of Fareed Haque and of course the birthplace of the eponymous Blues style. Gerardo once again appropriates one of his earlier compositions and, with the help of Haque's Chicago Blues manners and special effects on electric guitar, turns it into a brilliant, surprising, playful and way-pointing amalgam of style. Two strangers meet in a strange place and find themselves having much more fun and in common than not.
On "Que tambien es de Sevilla", Dominguez' piano opens with a very night-clubby ballad intro only to have the impassioned and thick Spanish voice of Gipsy vocalist Esperanza Fernandez break into an adapted sevillanas meter. By virtue of its simplicity – piano with female vocals – this track in many ways is the most straight-ahead Jazz number. While Fernandez' flamenco jondo demeanor is anything but, it's shocking how well these two worlds collide, blend and survive mutually strengthened. Rather than experimental, it comes across as natural, gracefully conceived and impressively executed.
"Para Chick" is a truly rockin' groove that would find mainstream airplay in a minute if those disc jockeys knew how to find it. Anchored by piano, Jorge Pardo's overblown flute and a steady hand by Tino Di Geraldo on percussion and drums, breakout solos by Gerardo Nunez prove yet again why he's considered one of modern Flamenco's wunderkinder on guitar. The following and last track, "Bluesoléa", underscores this only further. Entirely unaccompanied, he explores the traditional – heavily emotive -- context of a flamenco soleas with higher-order Jazz chords that are utterly alien to the flamenco vocabulary but integrate to perfection. This final composition shows why, in certain circles, Flamenco is referred to as the Blues of the Gypsies.
The recording quality (mastered in 24-bit super mapping at Bauer Studios in Ludwigsburg/Germany) is very solid and ahead of regular mainstream fare. Still, from that perspective it isn't hi-falutin audiophile material. Never mind. With music this outside yet involving and plenty of audiophile pressings available to bore the dead, this is for the musically adventurous who long for another artistic benchmark. Jazzpaňa II proudly points to a future where cultural differences will melt away in the fiery furnace of truly global music making without any remaining frontiers.