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Chano Domínguez accorded the piano a firm place in the Flamenco firmament by adapting its playing style to the modal and rhythmic demands of a genre dominated by vocals, guitar, dance and percussion. He single-handedly transformed the piano into a celebrated and respected Flamenco tool par excellence. Pianists Dorantes and Diego Amador have successfully followed in Chano's footsteps and now there's Pablo Rubén Maldonado with Almanjayar. Maldonado is also a poet, writing his own lyrics for the vocal tracks that accompany his keyboard at times. Instrumentation is sparse, with Miguel Fernández 'Cheyenne' on cajon, congas and various other percussion; José Bermúdez 'El Lince' on palmas; Francisco Lucas Bustos on tablas; Sunny White on violin; and Ismael Fernandez, Rosario Jiménez 'La Cata' and Maria Romero on vocals.

Ever since Camaron de la Isla incorporated a full orchestra into certain of his songs (and originally much to the chagrin of purists), symphonic elements have continued to make inroads into Flamenco's language. There'd be a string quartet appearing with guitarist Rafael Riqueni or a fully developed symphonic suite for solo guitar by way of Vicente Amigo's stunning Poeta. Needless to say, piano as solo instrument continues this symphonic tradition. It allows exploration of chordal progressions that differ from how a guitarist would approach it. Because Flamenco is excessively rhythmic and based on complex patterns called compas, a pianist working this metier must also use his keyboard as one large percussive instrument just as Cuban players do.

Unlike Dominguez who crisscrosses between Latin, Jazz and Flamenco often in the same number, Almanjayar is a piano suite that explores the forms of bulerías, soléas, alegrías, tanguillos and tangos assisted by staccato percussion and hoarse vocal interludes. Powerful chordal syncopations often entirely replace the melodic lyricism for which piano is revered in classical circles. Carefully aimed dissonances inject dark shadows into the fiery, driven, vigorously hammered salvos of both hands. "Me quedo en Grana" then steps out of the Flamenco puro vein as a bulesalsa, a Latin hybrid that incorporates Salsa rhythms and here also Jazz scatting and Cuban-style backup chorus. It's a hard-hitting high-energy romp that shows the lighter side of Flamenco before we return again into the world often called the Blues of Spain. Think of Almanjayar as sophisticated modern Flamenco where guitar is replaced by a piano. Recording choices emphasize the piano's metallic aspects to invoke less woody warmth and more immediate transient harmonics for an overall thinner but very fast and highly dynamic sound. Piano lovers who haven't tread these Flamenco paths before will be quite surprised by how their singing instrument transforms its entire gestalt. Audiophile meanwhile will find the violently percussive, high-impact style quite challenging on their system. Yes, Almanjayar is a very solid addition to the genre.