When a musician as rare and as skilled as Paco de Lucía falls silent for over five years, you might guess that he’s either suffering a nervous breakdown in relative privacy, or he’s busy composing some of the best music of his career (though some artists have managed to do both at once). Cositas Buenas
would seem to be a confirmation of the latter hunch. It qualifies as the flamenco guitarist’s most praiseworthy album behind the still unparalleled Siroco
The reason for its exceptionality is clear. Cositas Buenas thrives on a vital tension, one which stems from a deliberate intrinsic dichotomy. This is never more apparent then when trying to put a critical finger on the pulse of the album. Is it primal or sophisticated? Conservative or progressive? Aggressive or sensual? Purist or eclectic?
It’s all of them at once. The music is continually charging against the furthest limits of its genre; and yet it is so stylistically rooted in its own history—that is, traditional flamenco and Spanish folk music—that a first-time listener would be forgiven for thinking that nothing has changed in the past century. Hearing the album is akin to watching an object undergo radical and mesmerizing physical mutations while remaining entirely stationary.
To achieve this, de Lucía has whittled his usual group of musicians down to the bare essentials: guitar (as well as bouzouki, lute, mandolin), flamenco vocals (including some by himself), palmas (handclaps) and percussion. (In a slight break from this sparse format, trumpeter Jerry González appears on the final track, “Casa Bernardo,” along with Alain Pérez on bass and Alejandro Sanz on tres.) By limiting himself in this way, de Lucía has then been forced to concentrate on developing the rhythms, mood and harmonies that lie at the very heart of flamenco, not simply enriching the music with expanded instrumentation or electronic means. It recalls Stravinsky’s take on artistic freedom in his lectures The Poetics of Music : “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
In addition to González, other guest musicians include guitarists Tomatito and Juan d’Anyelica and vocalists La Tana, Montse Cortés, el Potito and Camarón de la Isla, de Lucía’s collaborative partner of three decades. Astute readers will wonder how de la Isla, dubbed “The Mick Jagger from Cádiz,” managed to lend his voice to “Que Venga el Alba” in spite of his passing in 1992. This is best looked upon as a prime example of those aforementioned intrinsic dichotomies: resurrecting the past through the use of contemporary technology.
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