Various Artists

A Night in Madrid

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Like some other regional world music compilations on the Union Square group of labels, this features both traditional sounds of a certain territory, and far more recent, contemporary-at-time-of-issue styles that make far greater use of cutting-edge electronics. In the case of this two-CD set documenting sounds of Madrid (mostly taken from tracks recorded in the '90s and early 2000s), the first disc is entirely devoted to the kind of flamenco music that most listeners around the world associate with Spain. The second CD is an entirely different affair altogether, as it's more concerned with fully produced dance-oriented tracks that, while they often contain hints of more traditional Spanish and/or flamenco, are by no means simply updated spins on the flamenco form. On the one hand, this kind of sequencing makes sense, ensuring a much more consistent tone on each of the approximately hour-long discs. On the other, it seems likely that many listeners who are primarily fans of traditional flamenco will have little or no use for the second disc, and that only the more open-minded admirers of the second disc will be too enthused about the quite different stuff on disc one.

Judged on its own merit, disc one is a pretty good, diverse survey of work from about a dozen flamenco artists, one of whom (Ketama, represented both by one of their own tracks and a collaboration with Toumani Diabaté and Danny Thompson) has experienced a fair amount of international success. Although the arrangements are often oriented toward acoustic guitar and voice, it's not wholly acoustic or purist/preservationist, even if a humble melancholy does permeate much of the melody and instrumental/vocal delivery. While disc two's cuts are undeniably more ambitious in their mix-n-match combinations of sounds from different styles, they're also less likable, often bearing an in-your-face, calling-attention-to-itself cleverness. Elements of hip-hop, funk, and electronic dance collide with samples, jazz/flamenco riffs, sound effects, repetitious distorted vocal snatches and what have you (even some Indian film music), though the accomplished editing together of the parts is more impressive than the songs per se. As for overlap with disc one's more organic approach, there's not much, though Moraíto featuring Navajita Platéa play straightforward flamenco, and Ketama show up again in a collaboration with Toumani Diabaté and Jose Soto -- a performance that might have fit better on the first disc than the second. Pata Negra also use a more conventional approach to music-making on "Blues de la Frontera," though it's more flamenco than blues.

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