Ask the average aficionado with an expressed affinity for flamenco or for bluegrass, and chances are, most will dismiss any similarity between the two. Granted, both demand an advanced level of instrumental dexterity, but given their disparate origins, any other commonality isn’t readily apparent.
So credit Lluis Gomez (5-string banjo), Carol Duran (violin/fiddle), Maribel Rivero vocals, bass), and Javier Vaquero (guitar), from the Catalan region of Spain, for finding a connection between the two courtesy of the band they’ve aptly christened FlamenGrass. Their new Segell Microscopi Records album, Alegria (which literally means Joy in English) manages to incorporate both forms, making equal use of intricate flamenco guitars, fiddle, and various other banjo pickings and tunings, to diffuse any distance between the genres and, in turn, to create a fusion that’s fresh and flush with finesse. Although the album is largely made up of instrumentals, there’s enough verve and vitality to keep the melodic quotient intact. When vocals are employed — as in Station To Your Heart, which, like the majority of original offerings, is penned by Duran — they’re mostly in Spanish. Nevertheless, the lithe and lively delivery ensures the enticement remains infectious.
That said, in some cases, it’s required that listeners lean in to pick up on all the nuances the group employs. The traditional New Ponzu is one such offering, a song that finds Duran conveying a heartfelt vocal that seems to share some Spanish/American origins, despite its seamless blend of guitar, violin, and banjo.
Granted, flamenco and bluegrass move at different tempos and establish differing moods, the former being immersed in old world romance while the latter echoes a traditional tapestry borne from Appalachian origins. The two worlds couldn’t be further apart. Then again, in hearing a song like the vibrant title track, the upbeat RumbaGrass or the robust Zorongo Gitano, the differences seem wholly inconsequential. The rapid pace sustained through Alegria, or the calming caress shared through Abenamar, make any attempt at sticking with preconceived parameters seem moot and meaningless.
Ultimately, FlamenGrass occupy a unique niche of their own. And if Alegria offers any evidence at all, it’s the fact that indeed, two disparate worlds can collide.