Tomatito | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jose Fernandez Torres, better known as Tomatito, was only 15 when he started playing guitar professionally, and he didn't mess around. He quickly became the main accompanist for Spain's premier flamenco vocalist, Camaron de la Isla (born Jose Monje Cruz), a gig he held until the singer's death in 1992. Camaron's place in flamenco history is hard to overstate--he introduced the world to groundbreaking guitarist Paco de Lucia and by the late 70s he'd revolutionized the music, bringing in electric guitar, drums, and flute. His voice was high-pitched, serrated, and intensely powerful, capable of conveying both menace and vulnerability, and Tomatito proved a perfect foil. His rhythmic playing propelled the music and gave the fiery vocalist ample space for dramatic displays of technique. On his own, Tomatito often takes the fusion route--he's dabbled in the music of Latin America, and his solos can break into jazzy runs. His duet album with Spanish jazz pianist Michel Camilo, Spain (Verve, 2000), landed two Latin Grammys (though I find it rather sleepy), and his most recent album, Paseo de los castanos (Emarcy), includes a collaboration with George Benson. But Tomatito has hardly ditched the flamenco tradition, as this rare local appearance--presented as part of the Instituto Cervantes's Flamenco 2003 festival--demonstrates. He performs with a six-member group that includes the great vocalist El Potito (who's worked with the likes of de Lucia and young hotshot Vicente Amigo) and the dancer Rafael del Carmen. Thursday, February 6, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630.

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