|Like Los Lodadas and Los Habichuelas, the Amador family from Seville, heartland of Spanish Flamenco, has sired at least three popular current-generation Flamenco performers: Raimundo and Rafael, two guitarist famous for their flamenco/Blues fusion with the groundbreaking Pata Negra formation, and Diego, a self-taught pianist who so impressed Fantasy Records' distributors during their European convention in Barcelona last year that Ralph Kaffel and Bill Belmont from the label's Berkeley headquarters signed him on the spot for what would become today's album.
By introducing the piano to Spanish flamenco, Piano Jondo -- deep piano -- enjoys but minor precedents, in recent memory most notably Tomatito's stunning collaboration with Jazz pianist Michel Camilo [Spain, Verve 314561545-2] and the Jazzpaña II project with Gerardo Nuñez and Latin piano ace Chano Dominguez [ACT 9284-2]. Alas, where the former was predominantly a Jazz recording with Flamenco idioms and the latter a true large scale half-and-half hybrid, Amador's recording is completely rooted in the traditional forms of soléa, taranta, bulerías, rondeña, seguiriya and tangos while simultaneously far transcending them. This follows the ancient maxim that in order to successfully break the rules, you must first master them.
Naturally, the term 'traditional' and Flamenco piano is a complete euphemism. At best, it'd suggest a kind of guitar-to-piano transcription technique. And while the opening "Solea del Churri" with Diego on overdubbed guitar, mandola, palmas and Gipsy vocals does indeed sport transcriptive elements -- of a guitar-driven soleas translated for piano, replete with rasgueados, explosive staccato runs and the complex rhythmic accentuation of Flamenco compas assisted by brother Luis on the Peruvian cajon -- later tunes cleverly incorporate Jazz riffs, outright quotes and eventually, like during the course of the bulerías "Vivan Los Gitanos!", delve deeply into highly consonant, dense improv that's far more an exploration of Flamenco spirit and feel than restrictive form and structure.
Think percussive core quality of Flamenco guitar. You'll immediately appreciate how associated stylistic demands would seamlessly translate into hammered rather than legato piano. This borrows playing techniques from sources as varied as Cuban, Free Jazz, Boogie-Woogie and experimental where the player partially damps the strings with glass and other materials or manipulates the strings directly inside the sound box rather than via pedal. The end result is piano like you've not heard it before: Clearly modern, at times nearly violently rhythmic, often dissonant, with clear underpinnings of melodic and chordal Flamenco conventions connecting and returning even the most far-out excursions back to the central theme - of modern piano embedded in this milieu as a solo instrument replacing guitar, vocals and dance.
Piano Jondo thereby takes its place squarely inside the radical evolution of Flamenco that's occurred in the wake of the Paco de Lucia Sextet. A base level requirement is complete immersion in the tradition to create authentic foundation in its unique syntax. It then also mandates prodigious talent for elegant experimentation, to incorporate alien vocabulary in such a way as to organically enrich rather than artificially dilute, estrange or destroy. Diego Amador succeeds brilliantly on all counts. His new recording affords us a rare insight into how the current Spanish scene of cutting-edge cross pollination dubbed, umbrella-like, the Nuevo Flamenco movement, is unfolding. In years to come and if Diego's example should encourage parallel exploits, Piano Jondo may be identified as where it all began - a distinctly new style of playing the piano. But why wait? Hear it now, from the lauded musician who invented it: Diego Amador. Piano Jondo. Deep Piano. Indeed.