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Juan Cañizares Tells It Like It Is

posted in listening on march 1st, 2008

Despite the little brush I had with the Chair of the Spanish Department over my wine consumption at the reception following Juan del Gastor’s lecture-demo, I nonetheless managed to secure a front-row seat for the Juan Cañizares presentation. And an interesting seat it was: as was fully expected, these two players are about as different from each other as two tocaores flamencos can be. If one can safely say that Juan del Gastor is the quintessential festero and tocaor gitano (and I firmly contend one can), one could just as easily describe Juan Cañizares as the music connoisseur’s guitarist.

I won’t go on and on about how great it was to get to see a virtuoso of this caliber at such close range (did I mention I was in the front row?), but I will share with you some of what I know (or have since learned) about Cañizares’s take on flamenco guitar. Cañizares is currently touring with a small troupe performing his arrangement of Isaac Albéniz’s Iberia suite (which was originally composed for piano). While he didn’t go into it at the UW event, this sort of "extracurricular activity" evidently puts him at odds with some “flamenco purists.”

Cañizares’s response to the claim that classical music (and classical music education) will somehow “taint” flamenco, however, is refreshing (and, particularly for those of us not of Andalusian extraction—i.e. who must approach flamenco from the “outside”—encouraging). Here’s some of what Cañizares had to say on the topic in an interview with esflamenco.com:

The prestige given to ignorance has been very bad for flamenco. Flamenco is a cultured music and it should be seen as such. It can’t continue to be associated with nightlife, taverns and partying. It should be taken seriously, professionally… . Learning formal music isn’t going to make you any less flamenco, to the contrary, it’s going to allow you to go further and do things like the Iberia suite… . Learning is very important. You can have inspiration but if you are also a professional then you can make more of that inspiration. Doing things without tools is not the same as doing them with tools.

I couldn’t agree more. Since both of these talks, in fact, I’ve been mulling over (and I do mean serious mulling, here) the implications of these two strains of flamenco: the gitano strain of Juan del Gastor and the virtuoso strain of Juan Cañizares. I’m not sure yet what to make of it, but seeing both of these top notch performers in such rapid succession has at least convinced me that these two categories need not be mutually exclusive—that the advent of one does not necessarily portend the demise of the other.

I’m sure there are those out there who will disagree with me—some violently, perhaps. And that’s fine (well, depending on the degree of violence, I suppose), but I like the idea that any form of art needs air—needs to breath—if it’s going to remain vibrant.

flamenco guitarists

But here I am, wandering off on philosophical tangents like some long-haired hippie grad student when I should be sharing music clips! Okay, then—here they are, already. Cañizares’s demo was presented in two sections: the first was a sort of “here are the main palos” presentation. He talked (briefly) about the most common 6/8 forms and played a short demo of each. I’ve included these shorter clips in the first playlist because they give a good impression of Cañizares’s toque:

Juan Cañizares: Soleá
Juan Cañizares: Siguiriya
Juan Cañizares: Solea por Buleria
Juan Cañizares: Alegrias
Juan Cañizares: Buleria

In the second part of the presentation, Cañizares played three longer pieces with Juan Carlos Pastor (his accompanying guitarist on the Iberia tour). These songs have more of the “modern flamenco” feel for which Cañizares is better known (two, in fact, are off of the Noches de imán y luna album). It is interesting, however (says I), to listen to these in juxtaposition with Caizares’s more traditional toque; even though these clips are in a largely non-traditional style, Cañizares’s “voice,” as with the clips above, is clear throughout:

Juan Cañizares: Alegrias
Juan Cañizares: Lejana (Balada)
Juan Cañizares: Lluvia de Cometas (Rumba)

And there you have it again!

Now back to work!


tags: canizares, albeniz
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