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Music Review: Greg Duncan – Chicago, Barcelona Connections

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As Chicago-based jazz trumpeter Greg Duncan describes it in the notes for his latest release, Chicago, Barcelona Connections, the album is the result of time spent living in Spain in 2009 and 2010 and his greater exposure to the flamenco traditions. Although not new, the idea of cross fertilization—flamenco jazz—intrigued him. In the album notes, he says it seemed to him that “the genre of flamenco jazz is primarily relegated to Spanish/European musicians and not explored much on this side of the Atlantic.” He wanted to show how flamenco jazz differs from the more common Latin jazz that has become a standard genre in the jazz musician’s arsenal.

While musicians like Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, and especially Jerry Gonzalez have done some meaningful exploration of flamenco forms in the jazz context, there is no question that it is through its cultivation by the Spanish/European artists that the form has flowered. In a recent post on NPR’s “A Blog Supreme/NPR Jazz,” Simon Rentner points to five songs where America and Andalusia meet, and Bronx-born Gonzalez is the only American mentioned. Instead the list includes the likes of Chano Dominguez, Paco de Lucia, Pedro Iturralde, Tomatito, and the Dominican pianist Michel Camilo. Nationalism aside, the field would seem is wide open for another voice from this side of the Atlantic.

Chicago, Barcelona Connections is an album that may well have you wondering what American musicians are waiting for. Duncan (trumpet and flugelhorn) has joined with Corbin Andrick (alto/tenor sax), Stewart Mindeman (piano/Rhodes), Jon Deitemyer (drums/percussion), and Patrick Mulcahy (acoustic/electric bass) to put what he calls an authentic spin on his music, enhancing jazz ideas with “the great rhythmic and melodic traditions of Spain.” Guest vocalist Patricia Ortega and cajón player Javier Saume round out the group.

Flamenco music uses a variety of rhythms. The album’s nine tunes, including four original Duncan compositions, sample the more popular varieties. With a nod to those of us less well acquainted with the forms, Duncan identifies them on the album cover. It opens with a rumba, the excitingly fast paced “De Camino.” Duncan’s “Straighten Up” is a tango with a real straight-ahead jazz feel. His “Reality Versus Myth” is an example of the bulerías, with very sweet melody from the horns. The traditional “Romance Anonimo” is a sevillana with emphatic dance rhythms. Tanguillos is represented by the classic “Poinciana,” and features some very nice solo work on the piano and sax.

Paco de Lucia’s “La Tumbona” smacks of the bull ring, and “Correveidile” features a smoking vocal by Ortega. Ortega, Duncan notes, sings with a Chicago flamenco pop group which he also plays with, Las Guitarras de España. She has the kind of vibrant voice that the music demands. The album closes with Duncan’s “Spanish Life,” a tune he calls a “swing ballad.” A mellow gem, it’s one of the highlights of the set.

Altogether there is over an hour’s worth of music on the album and every minute of it is worth hearing. One can only hope that flamenco jazz, as interpreted by Greg Duncan, will find its audience, and that said audience will keep expanding.

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