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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
an appropriately lavish tribute to a genius of flamenco13 Sept. 2000
Ian K. Hughes
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This import box set, containing the complete works of Camaron de La Isla, is excellent and without doubt essential for all flamenco "aficionados". Camaron was for many the greatest singer ( cantaor ) in flamenco's history. There have been of course numerous artists who sang profoundly but with a repertoire restricted ( "corto" ) to the "essential" gypsy cantes ( "soleares", "seguiriyas", "bulerias", etc ) . An example being Fernanda de Utrera, Perla de Cadiz, Terremoto de Jerez, El Chocolate. In terms of more extensive repertoire encompassing the whole gamut of the Cante the progenitor of "completeness" was Antonio Mairena. But Camaron de La Isla ( born a couple of generations after Mairena ) was unique: no matter what style of the Cante he was singing, overwhelming passion and involvement was put into it. Camaron's trademark vocal quality, quintessentially "gitano" ( raspy & cracked; "raja" as they say in Andalucia ), was combined with a superior ability to negotiate the melismatic ornamentation of the flamenco style ( so similar to ancient Jewish and Arabic religious singing ) with perfect control and intonation. Camaron de la Isla was the artistic name of Jose Monje Cruz, born 1951 in the Southern Spanish city of La Isla de San Fernando, hence the "Isla" part of Camaron's artistic name ( "camaron" itself means "shrimp", a double meaning for the diminutive singer native to a coastal village ). I'm not fully acquainted with the details of his childhood but know that he was considered a prodigy and was singing professionally by the time he was 11 or 12 years old. He met the now legendary guitarist Paco de Lucia ( born Francisco Sanchez Gomez in another coastal town, Algeciras, in 1947 ) at a fiesta in the mid 1960's. In terms of pure artistry, Paco de Lucia is Camaron's mirror reflection ( though in temperament, Camaron was the very emblem of gypsy spontaneity and Paco more "cerebral" and introverted ): both were revolutionary in their impact on flamenco music since they burst onto the scene in the late 1960's. Their recording partnership ( the "con colaboracion" series on the Philips label ) was started in 1969 and continued at the pace of one recording a year until 1977, a series of 9 albums, 4 of which are works of pure genius: "Soy Caminante", "Arte Y Majestad", "Castillo de Arena" and an untitled album from 1973 ( curiously, on "Rosa Maria" from 1976 Camaron seems tired and the LP as a whole lacks the magic of the albums mentioned above ). In 1979 Camaron worked with a savvy modern record producer and his first record without Paco, "La Leyenda del Tiempo", evinced the influences of salsa, rock and Indian music. While not in my opinion a huge artistic success, it did prove to be the template which Camaron used for the remainder of his recording career and it was overwhelmingly influential in shaping the new flamenco blossoming throughout Spain in the 1980's. During that decade Camaron concentrated on the more popular cantes ( "tangos", "rumba" ) as well as the core gypsy forms. Very often on his recordings he was accompanied by a group resembling the now famous Paco de Lucia Sextet ( more an Octet or Nonet these days ): electric bass, flute and percussion as well as the more traditional guitars and "palmas" ( handclaps ) would be involved in these projects. Sometimes, fairly mediocre sounding synthesized strings were present for a quasi-orchestral effect. Camaron's main accompanist for live concerts from 1979 on was the young phenomenon from Almeria, "Tomatito". Both men shared an almost telepathic connection when working together ( Tomatito stayed with Camaron till the end ). As someone who reveres Camaron's LP's from the 1970's, I think some dimming of concentration and consistency appeared on Camaron's records in the 1980's; his struggles with drug abuse, well known in Spain, may have contributed ( an exception is the great album "Como El Agua", 1981, featuring both Paco and Tomatito on guitars ). However, this is as much as saying Frank Sinatra's work in the 1960's was a lesser form of perfection than his work in the 1950's. Like Sinatra, Camaron remained a great artist until his death in Barcelona ( July 1992 ) at the age of 41 and ALL of his work deserves to be heard. This box set features re-mastered versions of all of Camaron's albums with well-written liner notes ( in Spanish only ) and some great photos. An added bonus is the one CD containing some previously unheard Camaron. Also, the nicely produced booklet is attractive. This set is an appropriately lavish monument to a true genius. Hopefully more and more people will come to know the work of this great master of flamenco, the one and only Camaron.