The New York Critic: Reviews

Mysterious Emotions

Flamenco music comes from Andalucia region of Spain. It began to develop in time immemorial, and gained definition in the fifteenth century, when Roma (gypsies) settled in Spain. One Spanish writer called it "a storm of exasperation and grief". It's a type of jazz, actually - it's improvised.

Carmen Linares, Spanish, and considered the world's foremost female flamenco singer, appeared in New York recently, in a concert titled Un Ramito De Locura (A Little Piece of Madness), presented by The World Music Institute. Hearing her brilliant performance is an unforgettable and elevating experience. This singing has nothing of the Italian bel canto in it - it's far less reserved. We can hear in it the insistence of the Moslem call to prayer, or the wail of the American blues. Sometimes Linares' voice takes on a bit of the rasp that we associate with rock. It contains all the passions of life - grief, anger, love - and humor, and mysterious emotions. She sings in Spanish, and I was had the enormous advantage of understanding none of the lyrics; there was no denotative intrusion.

The rhythm and the structure of these songs can become very complex. It's like being in the middle of a Shakespearean sonnet, or one of those progressive jazz pieces: we loose track of where we are in the piece because every moment is so demanding, and we surrender ourselves to it.

Stra. Linares was accompanies by up to six musicians: two guitarists, a bassist, two singers and a percussion man. One of the guitarists was Gerardo Nunez, himself a world-class name in the music world. In an instrumental number, their range and subtlety proved them brilliant in their own right.

In some songs, the back-up singers clapped out a rhythm. Srta. Linares herself only occasionally exhibited some delicate clapping, obviously entirely for her own satisfaction. Sometimes her hand was on her heart, and sometimes it waved about - gestrues likely to be false in an American singer. In Srta. Linares, they are organic and subtle, above criticism. She never spoke to the audience, and she spoke a single word during the songs.

While Srta. Linares herself wore brown, the instrumentalists wore black. With their brown instruments and against the black curtain, they might have been vivifying a Picasso.

One of the percussionist's instruments was the square cube on which he sat. It sounded like a snare when he hit it near the edge, but it gave a duller thud when he beat the center.

If you haven't heard the flamenco - and particularly if you're a musician - I suggest you introduce yourself to it. You'll discover another musical world.

- Steve Capra
November 2003