Guitarist Chris Burton Jàcome proves that we don’t have to travel to Spain to hear authentic flamenco, at least not authentic American flamenco. CBJ was on the road to becoming a rock musician but a fateful song on the radio performed by flamenco guitarist Gerardo Nuñez changed the American musician’s fate. His latest recording Levanto (I Rise) though is a culmination of years of academic study and hands-on education with Spanish gypsy musicians. The studio recording chronicles a flamenco stage production of Calo Flamenco (an American flamenco dance troupe from Arizona). And these musicians and dancers are caliente!
I haven’t seen the live performance, but according to the press notes, the production sold out in New York with people lining up around the block, hoping to get a taste of this hot music. The recording features the dancers, singers and CBJ’s guitar with bass guitar, percussion, violin and palmas (clapping) filling in the rest. To call the music fiery would almost sound like a cliché, except that the passionate music ignites and explodes in all the right places. The vocals alone burn through deeply felt emotions and one can feel the anguish of their ancestors if she’s not careful. But then this is flamenco, a cathartic musical experience in the same realm with old-timey American blues, Portuguese fado and Greek Rebeteka. Listeners had better feel something.
After what sounds like a ritualistic call, CBJ’s guitar arrives and then followed by Olivia Rojas’ vocals on the title track. Then when listeners barely whet their appetite, the dancers set into action. I try to imagine the live performance of this and other songs on the recording, and I see myself barely containing my excitement. At Dawn, a lament with haunting vocals follows and gives listeners a taste of the spectrum of emotions and music performed on the CD. The musicians even throw in a flamenco rap, Ritmo Canix. The following track, Conquistador resembles Argentine tango.
And you might think it’s just a CD; just a piece of plastic that you insert in your stereo, but flamenco acts more like an airline ticket that transports you across the ocean, to another time and place; to another tradition that will always sound exotic to our American ears. Powerful in some places and breath taking in others, Levanto certainly feels like an ascension process. And even though I’m listening to American flamenco, those sizzling gypsy roots are showing. Ole!