Orillas. Borders. Edges. Banks. The title of flamenco guitarist Juan Carmona's album perfectly fits his Spanish idiom crossing over into Morocco and deeper Africa which has been attempted before -- El Lebrijano's Encuentros and Casablance come to mind -- but very differently, primarily because Juan is an exceptionally virtuoso guitarist, not a singer. Even though he does invite singers like Montse Cortes, Potito, José de la Negreta, Luisa Muñoz and Antonio Canalas, Orillas is primarily an instrumental vehicle to push Flamenco boundaries and modernize the art. Hence the appearance of strings as we'd expect them from Middle-Eastern orchestras; Gnawa percussion and African chant; and titles like "Marrakech" and "De Casablanca a Granada" that are more than suggestive of the dark continent.
Having already given us the stunning Sinfonia Flamenca with the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra last year, Carmona is clearly comfortable negotiating complex symphonic currents, something that was first attempted by the late Camaron de la Isla and has forever since haunted the flamencas. The earlier Orillas too uses orchestral colors but merely for effect, not as Sinfonia foundation. Think polarizing filters such as a photographer might use for some shots but not others. Other such filters are African/Arabian instruments like the oud and ney which meet the Spanish guitar in deeply Moorish settings with quarte-tone violin and harmonically adventurous string pedals.
One walks away from a listen to Orillas like an asteroid captured in the gravitational field of a top-flight instrumentalist and composer who is clearly at the peak of his powers. Or consider a first-rate 10-course meal prepared by a master chef in France where Juan Carmona works and lives. There are so many flavors here, so many unexpected frissons between timbres and styles, so many marvellous moments to be savored in this densely layered complex music. It's not that the playing isn't of the highest standards - which it is. It's in the end the compositions and their brilliant arrangements that take the prize for creating a completely believable new world. There's plenty of recognizable bits and pieces from here and there. The magic is in how they have been assembled into something new and exciting.
There's no shortage of technically heart-stopping Spanish guitarists today. Add the requirement for compositional genius however and the ranks thin as they do elsewhere. That's where Orillas marks a very powerful exception. It's a bold stylistic hybrid that transcends the willfully experimental. In years to come, it will likely be accorded the status of a classic, a forerunner and precursor of changes - at least by those who pay attention to such things. As such, it's not merely a deeply beautiful album but also an important one. Your notice has herewith been issued. And it's not exactly news. Orillas was nominated for a 2003 Latin Grammy. The album's original Nomades Kultur release has simply been reissued on Chant du Monde for 2007 to fall under the distribution aegis of Harmonia Mundi now. That make Orillas very timely - all over again.