TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 January 2010
Upon hearing this album, Leonard Cohen was moved to send its progenitor two dozen roses. Made up of adaptations of songs by Cohen and poems by Federico Garcia Lorca - Cohen himself was influenced by the Spanish poet, even to the extent of naming a daughter after him - Enrique Morente and his collaborators here do both artists proud, imbuing their works with new vigour and meaning, some probably unintended.
According to John Gill, writing in his 2009 book Andalucía, Morente is the greatest living exponent of flamenco, but it's not because he's hung up on keeping flamenco pure, as are some. It is partly because he stretches the tradition, in the case of Omega using fellow Granadiños Lagartija Nick to add a backdrop of rock music, as well as giving a flamenco sensibility to the works of a Canadian folk singer. As Gill says, he gives flamenco "a future beyond nostalgia and cliché". Unsurprisingly, he is reviled by many traditionalists.
In addition to the Nicks, Morente is supported by several other big names in flamenco, including Montoyita, Tomatito, and his daughter Estrella. The collection is divided maybe equally between semi-conventional sounding flamenco, where the acoustic component has exclusive rights, and the rock-infused collaborations featuring the Nicks. The first of these, the title track, begins as almost a monastic chant (another area Morente has explored), before being punctuated by a machine gun barrage on the snare accompanied by flamenco palmas, after which the piece is transformed into something which may have been influenced by Pink Floyd's Interstellar Overdrive. Manhattan, adapted from a Cohen song, is underpinned throughout by growling guitars, which occasionally break into a reggae beat, and overlaid by a multitracking of Estrella's singing and a haunting flamenco guitar lick courtesy of Cañizares, again evoking something quite ethereal. And the closing track, Ciudad Sin Sueño, a rendition of a Lorca poem, has a guitar accompaniment reminiscent of The Doors' The End.
This in itself brings to mind the poet's own sad End, murdered by Franco's allies from the phalange in 1936 (recent attempts to discover exactly where they buried him have come to nothing as yet), but the title brings us back to Manhattan and, specifically, New York (referenced earlier in Lorca's La Aurora De Nueva York), the city that never sleeps ("No duerme nadie" - No one sleeps - in this song), and therefore has no dreams, and possibly the opposite of Baudelaire's Paris, "cité pleine de rêves". Lorca was a fan.
As I said, some of the "meanings" are probably unintended.
The song concludes (as does The End) with the music picking up speed, then collapsing into chaos, with the palmas adding further tension with their insistent polyrhythms.
Note also the cover version of Cohen's Alleluia, here rendered as Aleluya, again accompanied on the one hand by virtuoso flamenco guitar, on the other by grinding electric guitar and multitracked "coros", including Estrella and several more. Leona Lewis eat your heart out. There's more pasión in each word than in the whole of the X Factor (and I'm not saying that to diss Leona but to give a measure of Morente).
Whilst the more conventional flamenco songs in themselves are significant, it is the very startling nature of these other tracks that make them worthy of most comment, startling in being totally unexpected in their impact, shape and texture. (It's a little like picking up Miles's On The Corner, expecting a rerun of Kind Of Blue.) And that is the quality that makes this recording so completely outstanding.