Santiago Lara ‘Flamenco Tribute to Pat Metheny’ (Warner Spain) 4/5

santiago-laraThe compositions of guitarist Pat Metheny have increasingly formed part of the jazz standard tradition, but what would his music sound like if transposed into an entirely different tradition, that of flamenco music? This was the question flamenco musician Santiago Lara asked himself and was the genesis for this excellent project that is both well researched and finely executed, and an example of flamenco fusion that, perhaps, inevitably begs comparison with the work of Paco de Lucia. Metheny has gone through various phases in his career, including ones devoted to Brazilian and Latin American rhythms, as well as film soundtracks, folk and acoustic music. These are creatively and evenly covered here with a basic rhythm section comprising bass, hand claps, flamenco guitar, but augmented where necessary by piano, vocals (both individual and collective wordless), flute, harmonica and percussion. That said, in contrast with other recordings serving as a de facto tribute, this album does not overuse the guest musician format and deserves credit for being sparing in its treatment. Lara served a long-term apprenticeship with flamenco guitar great Manolo Sanlucar and this has stood him in good stead for this creative new project.
One of the Metheny numbers most covered elsewhere is ‘James’ from the composer’s ECM period, and here the slow start rapidly develops into an uptempo flamenco number with guitar and piano in tandem which are added to by the fine harmonica playing of Antonio Serrano. Current flamenco vocal legend Estrella Morente (whose father Enrique was equally famous and has worked with Metheny no less) adds her own lyrics on, ‘Find me in your arms’, and the transformation here may come as a surprise, albeit a most pleasant one, to long-time fans of Metheny who remember the original off the ECM album, ‘American garage’, which some liken to a prog-jazz phase of Pat Metheny’s illustrious career. The contrast could not be greater, but what a fine performance from Morente who makes this her own.

Lara and band are at their most authentically flamenco on the lesser known, ‘Antonia’, where Metheny riff quotes are expertly inserted and fine work once again from the leader. However, on the opener, ‘Minuano’, the lengthy intro is similar in outlook to the original, but instead of Brazil being evoked, with the masterful flute playing of Jorge Pardo, it is instead Spain that is immediately conjured up, and the transition in the main part to solo guitar plus hand claps before there is a bass and guitar breakdown is sheer bliss, and this reaches a crescendo when flute and guitar operate together. Pardo is in fact no stranger to the flamenco-jazz idiom for he famously performed and recorded with Paco de Lucia and vocalist Camarón de la Isla who passed away in 1992.

Arguably one of the most inventive re-readings is that of ‘Question and answer’, originally the title track of an early 1990s trio album with Metheny joined by jazz greats Roy Haynes and Dave Holland. Pianist José Lavilla and Lara excel here on the jazz-inflected interplay and with drums entering, this provides an alternative version to the Metheny trio. What would Pat Metheny make of this tribute? Given the care taken to imbue his compositions with a distinctively Spanish flavour, the answer is likely be delighted and one can only speculate what musical sparks might fly if Pat Metheny ever assembled with Lara for a duo album. The seminal, ‘One night in San Francisco’, from 1981 with Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola springs to mind. A fine album from Santiago Lara and one that captures the open-minded spirit of Pat Metheny.

Tim Stenhouse