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Tauromagia is one of those landmark recordings that successfully managed to 'shoot the perfect KungFu movie'. It's a densely poetic multi-dimensional work that doesn't just string together death-defying stunts of superhuman technique but represents the entire culture of its chosen subject matter in such a comprehensive and conclusive fashion that seeing -- or hearing -- it gives you the essence of the entire thing itself. What Crouching Tiger did for the Shaolin movie genre, composer/guitarist Manolo Sanlúcar from Cádiz (or Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the Guadalquivir river exits Analusia) has done for Flamenco in this quasi-symphonic tone poem. It depicts the Fiesta Nacional bullfighting culture of Spain from the bull's birth in the meadow to his entrance and ritualized slaughter in the arena.

Son of famous Flamenco guitarist/composer/arranger Isidro Muñoz, Manolo Sanlúcar, born Manuel Muñoz Alcon, is the author of the trilogy Mundos Y Formas De La Guiterra Flamenca | Words and Shapes of the Flamenco Guitar, a formative work of the genre. He composed the Aljibe Flamenco Symphony first premiered in Málaga on May 29, 1992 and was the musical director of Carlos Saura's Sevillanas motion picture. Under commission from the Málaga University, he also wrote and performed the soundtrack of La Enciclopedia Electrónica de Andalucia during the 1992 Expo and composed the soundtrack for the Japanese documentary Viva la Blanca Paloma on Romería del Rocío which was performed with the London Royal Philharmonic under his own baton. In 1997, he became a member of the Performing Arts Academy of Cadiz. In 2001, he received the National Prize of Music at the first Flamenco festival of Caja Madrid. He has performed with Soledad Bravo, Luis Eduardo Acute, Paco de Lucia, Pepe Habichuela, Antonio Carmona, Enrique and Estrella Morente, Lola Flores, Carmen Linares and El Lebrijano.

With up to 40 participating musicians, Tauromagia features dazzling fretwork duels between Manolo and a young Vicente Amigo, the voices of José Mercé, El Moro and Macanita, the percussion of Tino di Geraldo, Diego Carrasco and Manolo Soler as well as symphonic strings, woodwind brass and the sitar of Luis Paniagua. The only related work I'm familiar with is Vicente Amigo's Poeta, another symphonic poem for Flamenco guitar, singers and poetry recitals though without the specific bullfighting programme that underlies Tauromagia's nine chapters or stations. Studying books on bullfighting, one can't escape fascination over the intricate insider's language about different lances, passes or suertes that the toreaor performs with his cape to tire and eventual dominate the animal. Many of these moves and maneuvers -- derechazos, naturales, ayudados alto and bajo,
veronicas -- carry the names of the matadors who first performed or perfected them. There's the manoletina popularized by Manolete, the molietina belmontino of Juan Belmonte.

Prior to Papa Hemingway's decried decline into staged mass amusement that unduly relied on the banderillas to wound and wear out the animal with lances, bullfighting was a truly lethal business. Matadors were gored to the death, their quarry leaving the ring unharmed. No bull enters the ring twice. The second time around, he'd be hip to the red trickery and cleanly attack the handler of the cloth itself. With man and creature thus suffering equal odds of a fatal end in traditional encounters, Tauromagia or Bull Magic is surrounded by the potent smells of sweat, fear, adrenaline, heroism and defeat where man, cape and blade play the odds against superior speed, reflexes and mass.

Just as the true art of bullfighting remains inaccessible except to those performing it, so most of the technical complexities of Tauromagia will be an open book only to Flamenco guitarists and aficionados who imbibe the inner secrets by osmosis while living that particular life. The rest of us merely get the jolts and stimulation of hearing something palpably authentic and at a very high level of perfection, without understanding exactly how or why it happened. The special aspect of this recording is the accompanying 'story book' context that renders it a romantic tone poem like Strauss or Rachmaninov wrote in the classical metier. The poetry of the sung lyrics and liner notes indicate both a prayerful attitude and also ambivalence over the final kill in "... de muleta" when the bull dies in the plaza.

Listening to Tauromagia is accompanying Manolo Sanlucar as the narrator on his guitar as he takes us down the steps into the arena. It's thus very much a concertized form of a soundtrack that describes an invisible movie whose action occurs not in pictures but dense and conflicting emotions, none of them subdued or subtle but all very raw, potent and direct. To get a full immersion into Flamenco not as a function of a particular style or artist but rather, to meet the spirit or gestalt of this art form, there perhaps is no better album than Tauromagia. It captures that both primitive and highly stylized aspect of the Spanish soul to perfection.