Buika makes flamenco her own

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I don’t fastidiously follow contemporary flamenco music, but I do appreciate the intensity of the ongoing debate about authenticity within the form. I understand and respect the drive to move any traditional form of music forward, but ever since the ascent of the great Paco de Lucia, guitar players have pushed and pulled flamenco in some aesthetically questionable directions. If I never hear another player delivering the sort of facile, noodly, and unctuous solos that Al DiMeola made famous on these shores, the quality of my life would unquestionably improve.

Luckily, in recent years an impressive crop of players—such as pianist Chano Dominguez and guitarist Niño Josele--have found new ways to incorporate the flexibility and expansiveness of jazz into flamenco without turning the music to mush. Mi Niña Lola (Warner Music Latina), the second album by Spanish singer Buika (aka Concha Buika), finds another wrinkle to explore, pushing toward Cuba while retaining flamenco’s slow-burn intensity. Buika, who was born on the island of Mallorca to parents from Equatorial Guinea, also has a pop singer’s sense of concision, yet her low, slightly husky voice is as serious as can be without false drama.

Josele, who brilliantly demonstrated his deep understanding of jazz within a rich, personal style last year on Paz, an collection of music associated with pianist Bill Evans, plays on most of Buika's record but never draws focus to his hot-shot chops. In fact, what makes this album so gripping is that the flamenco arrives mostly through the emotional intensity of the arrangements and Buika's superbly clenched phrasing. She's got the focus of a true diva, and she never overemotes.

Trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez, once one of the hottest salsa bandleaders in New York and a pioneer of the new flamenco-jazz, also turns up here, as does a Cuban rhythm section featuring wildly flexible drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and bassist Alain Perez. They help Buika cover a lot of terrain. Even when pianist Jose Reinoso quotes a bit of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” on “A Mi Manera” he doesn’t tip his hat in any particular direction. Rather, the music feels utterly at home at the intersection of flamenco, jazz, and son.

Mi Niña Lola was released in Europe a couple years ago, but it finally got a release here in late December--which all but assured that it would be lost in the holiday rush. It deserves better.

Today’s playlist:

Bobby Few, Lights and Shadows (Boxholder)
John Zorn, From Silence to Sorcery (Tzadik)
Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid, Tongues (Domino)
Brigitte Fontaine, Libido (Polydor, France)
Michael Fahres, The Tubes (Code Blue)

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