Windham Hill, 01934-11501-2, 2002
label website
Via the scope of exposure and taste vis-à-vis commercial concerns, compilations rise and fall based on the one charged with assembling the collection. Windham Hill's present Flamenco - A Guitar Collection rests in the expert hands of Dawn Atkinson and label artist and master producer Brian Keane. Keane contributes four new tracks by Adam del Monte and Sean Harkness not available elsewhere. Those alone are reason enough to own this album even if nothing else of note were included. But there is - far more.

In fact, this must be one of the -- if not the -- most impressive flamenco guitar compilation in recent memory. It kicks off with "Tres notras para decir te quiero", the Brazilian Jazz flavored opener with muted trumpet from Vicente Amigo's 2001 Latin Grammy award-winning "Best new Flamenco" album Ciudad de las Ideas . It is named for a verse from Kavafis and now reissued by Windham as City of Ideas. Amigo's first US-issued release is one of the most brilliant nontraditional flamenco guitar albums ever, on even -- bespoke -- footing with Gerardo Nunez' Calima, Rafael Riqueni's Alcazar de Crystal or Juan Carmona's Borboreo. If you're unfamiliar with those, here's your chance to sample a taste of how modern crossover Flamenco guitar is played in contemporary Spain.

"Jardin" from the 1995 album Heat of the Sun by American guitar duo Strunz & Farah follows and leads us to "Night in Marrakesh", one of the collection's indisputable highlights among highlights. It reunites the Californian Adam del Monte and Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek as first heard on the latter's One Truth [WorldClass 11309-2] and is composed, produced and ambiance-enhanced by Brian Keane, trusted long-term collaborator with Tekbilek whose first three albums he produced outright.

"Marrakesh" sports highly virtuoso Gipsy guitar that doesn't give a quarter to Amigo's uncrowned Paco de Lucia successor stature, and mingles it with Faruk's haunting Ney flute undulating in its high registers atop a swaying 11-based Bedouin desert rhythm. Rich keyboards in the thematic bridge add a touch of Pop hook sophistication while Brian Keane's trademark synth atmosphere and production values add immeasurably to erecting a fully convincing and compelling aural scene, of firelight romance and seductively nubile dancers casting archetypal shadows of raised arms, fingers in complex mudras, feet stomping, hair flying, skirts twirling.

Jose Antonio Rodriguez Munoz' "Tiata Mia" from his 1999 record Manhattan de la Frontera is next and proof positive why Rodriguez, at 20, became the youngest-ever Flamenco guitar teacher at Cordoba's famed conservatory and was awarded first prize at both the 21st Cante Festival of La Unión and the 11th National Contest of Flamenco guitar in Jerez de la Frontera. With throaty yet jubilant vocals shared in parallel between Manual Malou and Jose Moreno, "Tiata Mia" is a very happy-go-lucky number that celebrates the sensual life-affirming aspect of the Gipsy soul.

Nino Josele of the Chanca/Pescaderia barrios in Almeria, last heard on his promising Al Sur solo release Calle Ancha - Wide Street [ALCD 142] then performs the popular tangos and rumba styles with "Rastro Viejo" and "Soraima". Brian Keane and Omar Faruk Tekbilek return on "Imaginary Traveler", a mysteriously driven North African tune with intricate rhythmic interplay between Night Ark founder Ara Dinkjian's oud, Hassan Isikkut's qanun and Arto Tuncboyacian's famed Turkish percussionist skills.

Windham Hill guitarist Sean Harkness performs the ethereal "Mi Hermano" solo ballad and rounds out the set in an initially dreamy trio setting with fretless bass and percussion that eventually transforms this "Corazones Diferentes" into a quasi-Flamenco production with Jamey Haddad's cajon accompaniment yet maintains a distinct "Windham Hill" guitar feel.

The crown jewel in the Flamenco Jondo tiara here becomes the second-to-last track "Sobra del Paraiso", Adam del Monte's 6:31 long solo outing in which he touches on all the bases with utmost technical mastery yet delivers in a very lyrically fluid way that underplays the jagged angularity inherent in much of this genre.

Flamenco guitar lovers alert: This is a must-own album. All solid gold -- no cheap plate over lead on a single track -- handpicked from the best of the best, perfectly sequenced to alternate moods, timbres and personalities, and with sparkling sonics that make "Flamenco / Windham Hill" a showcase record that delivers for audiophiles and music lovers alike.