Outside of the actual flamenco culture existing in Andalucia ( southern region of Spain ) and the circle of foreign "aficionados" from various places around the world, the name of Nino Ricardo will not be familiar. In all probability, a good number of people reading this review ARE "aficionados" of one degree or the other. Nevertheless, for the benefit of those who happen to be new to flamenco, "Nino Ricardo" ( born Manuel Serrapi Sanchez 1904 and died 1972 in his native city of Sevilla ) was THE flamenco guitarist during the 1950's and 1960's ( of course he was active professionally for a long time preceding that decade ). No young flamenco guitarist, even those belonging to the tight knit and unique gypsy guitar traditions of such "flamenco" towns as Moron de la Frontera and Jerez de la Frontera was immune to the tremendous creative artistry of Ricardo.
Although the pieces included on this excellent compilation certainly are vivid representations of Ricardo's inventive skill, one should bear in mind that he never really was a "concert" flamenco guitarist in the sense of his famous contemporary Sabicas ( the 1st international concert flamenco guitarist ) and the present day phenomenon, Paco de Lucia. Nino Ricardo's real forte was accompanying the "Cante" ( the word refers to flamenco song but the "Cante" in actuality embodies a whole culture and the world view contained therein ). The "meat and potatoes" of flamenco guitar playing has always ( even today ) been accompaniment to the Cante and to a lesser extent the "Baile" ( dancing ). And in playing for the flamenco singers ( "cantaores" ), Ricardo was supreme ( his recordings in the 1960's with Antonio Mairena and El Chocolate are great examples ). As for the "solo" playing on this recording, it is apparent that Ricardo's technique is not flawlessly polished like Sabicas. In fact, it may seem at times somewhat ragged or prone to loss of control. Granting this fact, I have never heard a flamenco guitar with a SOUND as good as his ( this includes Paco de Lucia, who I regard as the greatest flamenco guitarist of all time ). Ricardo's guitar just seeps emotion and the sonority is a perfect blend of sand and satin; both rough and elegant at the same time ( which is an accurate description of the man's personality ). His "tarantas" may have been equaled but never surpassed ( TIERRA MINERA ). Ricardo's "granainas" ( SENTIR DE SACROMONTE ) display harmonies anticipating Paco de Lucia. He virtually "owns" the "serranas" ( eg, SERRANA JUNCAL ). These particular flamenco song/rhythm forms ( representative of various regional styles ) were strong points for Ricardo in addition to his versions of the core gypsy forms of "soleares" and "seguiriyas" ( of course he was most magnificent in these forms when accompanying singers ). Interestingly enough, Nino Ricardo was not super strong in the most complex and characteristic flamenco form, the "bulerias", but his version ( JUNCALES ) is nothing to sneeze at ( and the sound, as mentioned before, is amazing ). From a purely technical perspective, Ricardo's "rasgueado" ( strumming ) is inimitable, his arpeggios innovative and his tremelo ( mandolin-like effect of "streaming" notes ) is to my mind the greatest of any flamenco guitarist, regardless of era. Ricardo's weak technical point would be his picado" ( scale runs ) but that hardly matters when listening to music of such passion and beauty.
As Paco de Lucia has mentioned in interviews, Nino Ricardo and ( later ) Sabicas were his two primary influences. It is fairly easy to see how Sabicas' incredible technique and superb rhythmic sense would have influenced Paco. However, Ricardo's prodigious creativity, sound and general approach; in a word, his "duende", have made an indelible mark on Paco's landmark creations. In that sense, Ricardo's well of creativity lives on in the generations of new flamenco guitarists who have followed Paco de Lucia ( it is interesting to note that in his time, Ricardo, like Paco de Lucia, was criticized by "purists" for extending the frontiers too far and playing too many notes! ) This recording should prove to be an indispensable component of any flamenco aficionado's collection but guitar players or just music lovers in general should consider experiencing Nino Ricardo's majestic music.