World & Latin

The Flavor of Flamenco

24 NOV 08 JOHN C. BRUENING

Although Sabor Flamenco is Spanish-born guitarist Juan Serrano's sole entry in the Concord Picante catalog (released in 1991), this 10-track set has plenty to offer.

Aided by second guitarist Leng Widjaj and percussionist Steven Schick, Serrano starts with the flamenco music of his native Spain as his foundation, and adds numerous and intriguing layers of Caribbean and South American styles and rhythms. The result is a masterpiece of Latin guitar that is both traditional and innovative at the same time.

The opening track, "Entre Olas," features a harmonized dual-guitar line punctuated by solo interludes, all propelled by Schick's precision rumba beat -- a rhythm commonly associated with South America but recast here with a more Spanish sensibility.

Further in, "Cubanita" is an exotic piece built on a hypnotic rhythm and a series of intriguing scales and arpeggios. Even more compelling, though, is the moment when Serrano steps away from his two accompanists and stands alone for "De Totana," a piece that showcases both his emotional range and technical virtuosity.

In the final stretch, "Romance flamenco" is based on a Spanish traditional, but includes new material that shifts the piece back and forth between 3/4 and 4/4 time. "Bailando," the spirited closer, draws its energy from Schick's castanets as well as carefully harmonized two-guitar lines and the dramatic pauses that separate the sections.

Serrano is considered one of the greatest living flamenco players for seemingly paradoxical reasons -- his respect for tradition and his willingness to improvise and experiment. Contradictory as that may sound, it all makes sense when the music starts.