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Since the emergence of Paco De Lucia back in the 60s, flamenco guitarists have either had to push the envelope stylistically or turn themselves into extreme extroverts to grab the spotlight. The players most people know—De Lucia, Tomatito, Vicente Amigo, and Gerardo Nuñez, among others—have either dabbled in fusion or made sure they received equal billing (if not top) with the cantaor.
Pedro Soler is an increasingly rare exception. Now almost 70, he has an old-school mentality, using impeccable rhythms and subtle melodic accents to support the soulful machinations of heavy-duty singers—including Enrique Morente, Pepe De La Matrona, and Juan Varea. On the recordings I’ve heard with him in a support role he never grandstands—no jazzy flourishes, no needlessly explosive bursts—but his presence is forceful and propulsive, and he possesses a sublime sense of space. His accompaniment has a genuine breath-like quality, masterfully matching the rise and fall of the vocals. Sometimes he’ll drop out suddenly, creating a powerful flash of silence, while at other moments his notes arrive in a wonderfully tangled pile-up.
On the 2004 solo album Luna Negra (Nord-Sud) Soler keeps the focus strictly on his guitar—no singers, no palmas, no percussion. His tone is subdued throughout, favoring the lyric over the rhythmic, but the performances are still exquisitely crisp and marked by a strong sense of time, even at their most melancholic. He'll make his Chicago debut with a solo performance tomorrow, April 11, at the Chicago Cultural Center.