Debut release from 20 year old flamenco singer that's deep in the tradition.
Peter Marsh 2002
20 year old flamenco singer Estrella Morente is (quite literally in her native tongue) a star. And a star with impeccable flamenco connections too; her father and musical mentor is legendary singer Enrique Morente, her accompanists include veteran guitarist Manolo Sanlucar as well as new flamenco stars Ketama, and to cap it all she's married to a matador.
Though Morente senior is famed for his crossover projects (his band Lagjarta Nick were named after a song by Bauhaus), My Songs and a Poem is very much in the tradition, free of electric instruments and studio tricks; some tracks were even recorded in a cave in Granada.
While on the opening "Cockles" Morente's vocal gymnastics are suffused with the emotive Gypsy howl that's become the norm on recent flamenco, in the main her singing adopts the subtle lilt of 1940s cantadores like the late Pastora Pavon. Even at her most incantory, as on "Pilgrims", there's a sweet rasp to her voice that catches the ear, and an incredible rhythmic confidence that belies her age.
Though there's a nod to recent flamenco fusions on "Moguer" (written by Morente senior) with a jazzy, restrained ballad that brings out an even more lyrical side to Estrella's vocal conception, much of the music here seems to come straight from the wellspring of flamenco tradition, full of passion, grace and fire. The ancient sounding "Alcazaba" (in praise of the Alhambra Palace) is heart stoppingly lovely, with a measured, yearning accompaniment from Sanlucar (previously guitarist for Pavon). Probably the best song about a building you'll hear all year.
Throughout the various guitarists are unobtrusive, sensitive but capable of dazzling improvisational fire and a rhythmic sensibility that rivals Indian music in its complexity and strangeness (to Western ears); Morente is there to respond to anything thrown at her and vice versa. Their dialectic is a reminder that flamenco is foremost an improvisational music, and in the hands of Morente and her collaborators remains a living, breathing tradition. A beautifully assured and compelling debut.