Lucho 1992
artist website

I usually don't review out-of-print CDs. It seems eminently unfair to taunt readers with sugar-glazed carrots that remain out of reach. However, Eric Vaarzon Morel's new 2002 album Sol y Sombra is very much available. Based on its teaser MP3 files on Eric's website as well as the overwhelming evidence of the older 1992 Flamenco de Hoy under consideration, it was obvious that lovers of Camaron de la Isla and Paco de Lucia needed to find out about this phenomenal Dutch flamenco guitarist even before I managed to get my hands on a reviewable copy of his latest.

Watching Eric perform on the concert DVD of Flairck's Circus Hïeronymus Bosch was and remains a spine-tingling experience. Googling for his website, we learn that Eric's flamenco training began at 16 when he studied under Paco Peña at the 7th Rencontre de la guitare in France, followed by a two-year immersion in Spain proper when he was 19. The 80s saw him touring with the Swiss outfit Flamencos En Route, his own ensemble Chanela and the formation Cuadro Flamenco. In 1999, Eric performed Abdelkader Benali's music for Toneelschuur Haarlem's production of De Ongelukkige (The Unhappy One), inspired by Louis Couperus' novel of the same name about the last Moorish king, Boabdil. This mixture of Arabian, Turkish and Indian spices into the Flamenco cauldron is also apparent in Flairck's 1999 to 2002 concert seasons where Vaarzon Morel performed in their Symphony of the Old World, the earlier mentioned Circus and, ongoing, Flairck's new commemorative program for the 4th centenary of the VOX United East India Company. Eric graduated from the Utrecht Conservatory and now acts as principal flamenco guitar teacher of Amsterdam's Sweelinck Conservatory.

The title Flamenco de Hoy of the out-of-print Lucho release simply means Flamenco of today, both to distinguish it from the pre-Lucia days of Sabicas and to differentiate it from the so-called Nuevo Flamenco offshoots that arose in the wake of Ottmar Liebert but have precious little to do with the real progressive Flamenco as played by Gerardo Nuñez, Rafael Riqueni, Vicente Amigo, Juan-Manuel Cañizares, Pascal Gallo, Tomatito, Miguel Espinoza, Los Losadas and Adam del Monte. Despite Eric's ongoing curiosity about other genres, Flamenco de Hoy is modern Flamenco puro, replete with hair-raising Cante Jondo interludes. Roderik Westra's funky bass lines would have been unthinkable in Flamenco prior to Paco de Lucia's wholesale reinvention of the genre but have since become a mainstay, as has the occasional use of various lutes and oud with their unusual timbres in the context of classic Flamenco.

While purist might decry this type of modernization and with-the-times progression, the fertile germinations of Southern-American, Cuban and even Jazz influences on Flamenco are what keeps this art form fresh and evolving. Granted, it also makes clear cut distinctions of what constitutes pure Flamenco germane only to the serious insiders. But once you've heard the modern masters mentioned earlier, distinguishing the real from the fake becomes patently obvious. By those standards, Eric Varzoon Morel is as scarily real as they come. Technical chops then become a given. More importantly however is raw passion, emotional intensity that at times becomes furious and frenzied, at others smoldering and restrained but always ready to pounce. And passion is what Flamenco de Hoy delivers but the bucket-load, ready to toss sprinkles as well as to drown you under massive downpours.

Framed by two ever-popular rumbas which, in the concluding "El Ciego", turns into a rollicking Jazz-tinged funk jam with parallel Brazilian-style vocalizing, a Flamenco/Latin vocal bridge and wistful violin, there are bulerias, an alegria, a tango and a rondeña, keeping us solidly grounded in the rhythmic framework of the Gypsies. Someone really ought to re-release or license this recording to make it once again available for broadscale public consumption. Henk & Marja in Rotterdam possess a mint original copy. Takers, anybody? If not, perhaps 6moons needs to get into the act. I'm serious. Until then, you're advised to contact Eric via his website and order one of his Sol y Sombra copies. I just contacted him for mine. Stay tuned.