Enrique Morente

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Seleccion Review

by Don Snowden

Enrique Morente is currently recognized as the most creative and adventurous post-Camarón flamenco singer for his willingness to experiment and extend flamenco into different contexts without losing touch with deep roots. This collection comprises the deep roots of Morente, culled from the six LPs recorded during the first decade of his career from 1967-1978. This means "pure" flamenco: Morente's voice accompanied by guitar and occasional handclap. One key element is the directness of his singing: emotional communication rather than flashy, virtuoso vocal frills and spirals is the focus. It is a crucial virtue for the neophyte or curious listener, because it reduces concern about needing to be an insider and wise in the ways of the flamenco world in order to understand what Morente does. "Las Minas de Romero" opens in fairly muted fashion but his vocals pick up force on "La Verduela," and he reach a commanding tone for the first time on "Los Ojos Abrió." The guitar backing is quite spare until "De Rabia Rompí a Reir," and although his vocal spirals are generally more gradual and less flashy than many flamenco singers, Morente falls prey to overdoing the embellishments on "Por la Trenzas de Tu Pelo."

But the impressions also grows that the first half-dozen tracks here from the late '60s show the artist forming his identity and hitting full stride once the '70s arrived. "Sentado Sobre las Muertas" and "Nanas de la Cebolla" are slower, with the cry in his singing showing more clearly against a stark, skeletal guitar backdrop. The mood/tempo contrast makes the buoyant, upbeat "Dios Te Va a Mandar un Castigo" doubly effective. The remaining material is virtually all first rate, with novelties coming via the double-tracked vocals on "A la Hora de la Muerte," or percussion supplementing the traditional handclaps building "A Mí Qué Me Importa" to a rousing climax. Slower, spare pieces as "Yo He Visto a Un Niño Llorar" and the closing "Andaluces de Jaén" are very effective, and while guitar and handclaps start "Como Reluce" in overdrive, it is the one later piece where the vocals come out a bit overdone. Spanish readers get the bonus of excellent liner notes by flamenco scholar Jose Manuel Gamboa that places Morente in context, both the development of his early career and his place as a rebel who the deep traditionalist school had some trouble dealing with on these recordings. The latter was for reasons that would escape newcomers to the flamenco world, but Seleccion stands alone as a strong introduction to Enrique Morente the world-class singer. It is also not a half-bad litmus test for listeners curious to find out if they might like flamenco in its classic song-oriented vein, when the focus was on interpretation as much, and usually more, than on virtuoso display.

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