|Born in 1958 in Almería of southeastern Andalucia, José Fernández Torres -- son of Tomate, grandson of Miguel Tomate, nephew of legendary guitarist Niño Miguel -- moved to Málaga at 12 and began playing the local flamenco nightclubs. At 15, Paco de Lucia and cantaor Camarón de la Isla discovered him in the famous Taberna Gitana. Impressed by the youngster's playing, 24-year old Camaron invited Torres to play with him. Being underage, the little Tomato, Tomatito, required his parents' permission to accompany the globetrotting singer. When his father finally acceded, one of the most legendary power trios of Flamenco was born. With de Lucia eventually concentrating on his solo and sextet career, Tomatito and Camaron remained an inseparable, highly celebrated duo until the latter's untimely demise in 1992.
Performing as opening act for Elton John's Spanish Tour in the same year opened the doors for Tomatito's new career as a soloist in which he's already garnered two Spanish Grammys, for his stupendous Spain album (2000) with Jazz pianist Michel Camilo, and the 1989 Camaron live collaboration Camaron - Paris. He appeared in the Carlos Saura movie Flamenco, Doris Doerrie's Bin Ich Schön and Al Pacino's Devil's Advocate, has released the solo albums Rosas del Amor (1987), Barrio Negro (1991) and Guitarra Gitana (1996) and appears on many other collaborations, notably with incendiary Flamenco singers Duquende, Enrique Morente and Kalifa as well as Neneh Cherry.
Today, Tomatito is one of the most celebrated guitarists in the exploding Flamenco fusion genre and takes his place alongside fellow maestros Gerardo Nuñez, Vicente Amigo, Rafael Riqueni, Juan Manuel Cañizares, Juan Carmona, Pascual Gallo, Adam del Monte, Moraito and Chuscales. 2001's German pressing Paseo de los Castaños -- for the Chestnut Avenue he lives on with his five daughters, wife and horses -- sees Tomatito expand his growing interest in world music and hybrid styles. He performs the Metheny-esque "Bir Ömürlük Misafir" by Turkish fretless marvel and friend Erkan Ogur from the latter's eponymous album, here arranged for string orchestra. He jams with Jazz legend George Benson on the fiery rumba "La Vacilona". He sneaks a smoldering Argentine tango motif into one of his boleros compliments of violinist Bernardo Parilla. Yet he maintains his complex Flamenco Puro roots with traditional soleá and bulerías renditions two of which see his 13-year old daughter María Angeles soloing on vocals.
Paseo de los Castaños, like Vicente Amigo's Grammy-winning Ciudad de las Ideas, is a multi-faceted, equally consummate crossover effort by a Spanish-born Flamenco guitarist steeped in the traditions from childhood, yet deeply interested in Jazz, Latin and WorldBeat styles and endowed with the artistic sensibility and monster chops to envelop these disparate musical languages under the umbrella of authentic Flamenco. The traditional Jerez-style bulerias "Ahi te quedras" was recorded in a wine cellar in Sanlucar and vibrates with the impromptu energy of Fernando de la Morena and Luis El Zambo switching vocal improvisations midstream, replete with instant key change to accommodate Zambo's higher voice, group palmas, the encouraging jaleo shouts of "hassah" and "olé" in the audience and the thick atmosphere of unpolished intensity. "Pa la Pimpi" is a modern gypsy tango with a beautifully queer mandolin riff by Juan José Suárez "El Paquete", modal violin accents, growling bass lines and dense percussion compliments of regular Tino di Geraldo.
"Aire de Tango" transports us into a South-American brothel, with its jazzy Russian-flavored violin slurs suggesting a bohemian Mosalini number that seamlessly sashays into the central hard-driving Bop-Rumba "La Vacilona" with George Benson whose outré yet organic juxtaposition recalls Nunez' exploit with Fareed Haque - Jazz and Flamenco intersecting, colliding, feeding off each other like one of Laurell Hamilton's steamy encounters between heroine Anita Blake and her many non-human lovers.
The following "Macael" solo taranta changes the extrovert mood to lyrical introspection that sinks into yet deeper languor with the Turkish instrumental ballad, its rich string accompaniment and haunting melody recalling Amigo's dreamy "Bolero de Vicente" trading solos with harmonica. Truly, modern crossover albums like Paseo put the hex on the tired old naysayers decrying the lost golden age of music. It's more golden than ever, with more effervescent maturity and stylistic interest than possible before the Berlin Wall crumbled, and many other artifical boundaries between peoples in its wake. You just gotta know where to look. WorldMusic is one of the more promising hunting grounds. May I suggest a pit stop right here, right now? If you're a lover of the Spanish guitar but think that Flamenco ended with Sabicas, take your steel strings with a hefty dollop of tomato sauce: Tomatito rules, and Paseo is hist best solo outing yet.
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