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Music Review: Enrique Morente – Pablo de Malaga

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Enrique Morente, flamenco’s rebel genius, has forged ahead with his experimental style injecting jazz, pop and other flavors into his music since the 1960s. Known for adapting Federico García Lorca’s poetry into a popular flamenco CD with 1999’s Lorca, he’s also paid tribute to Leonard Cohen in some of his songs. Of course, such devices brought on the wrath of flamenco traditionalists, but many pop and rock musicians consider him an inspiration. Morente recently performed with Sonic Youth in Valencia, Spain, and shows no sign of slowing down.

On Pablo de Malaga, Monrente has released his most ambitious project yet. Here, he combines his flamenco/fusion music with some of Picasso’s prose poems about life in his birthplace of Malaga. The writings were given to exclusively to Morente by a Picasso scholar, who worked with him to perfect Pablo de Malaga. (The texts aren’t commercially published elsewhere as of this date.) Morente first performed Pablo de Malaga publicly in Guernica, the city that inspired Picasso’s most famous painting.

Mixing acoustic guitars, bass, percussion, electric guitar and sound effects on most of the Malaga’s 13 tracks, Morente’s songs remains stripped down and not overly produced. Pablo de Malaga’s format eschews traditional tightly knit flamenco rhythms replacing them with free-form songs punctuated by the occasional emotional, percussive outburst. Each track is a soundscape on its own rather than a tidy little song.

Morente’s daughter Estrella, a flamenco star in her own right, provides vocals on “Montes de Malaga” and the chorus on the bonus song, "Angustia de Mensaje", which flirts with pop vocals near the beginning and on the closing track, “Adios, Malaga.”

“Guern-Irak” recounts the evacuation of Malaga during WWII when the town fell to Nationalist forces.The piece builds to a frightening crescendo with powerful percussion and electric guitar. “Autorretrato” (Self-Portrait) begins with a snippet of Picasso’s voice

With Pablo de Malaga, Enrique Morente creates a lush aural movie of textures and words, vocals and rhythms that range from traditional to layered and experimental. If you appreciate Picasso, history or flamenco music in general, you’ll enjoy Pablo de Malaga even if your knowledge of Spanish ended in high school.

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