Sal's flamenco soapbox

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What flamenco is NOT

Real name: Stephen Paul
He says the name "Esteban" was given to him by Segovia during master classes in Spain, because Steven was hard to pronounce. His website describes the music as: "Original compositions or arrangements of songs from the past... classical or flamenco... world... ethnic fusion or jazz... folk songs or bossa nova... Esteban is the virtuoso for the new global awareness." After five appearances on the Home Shopping Network, Esteban managed to sell over 50,000 albums. My first impression on hearing some of the more Spanish sounding titles was that he fits neatly into the same general musical genre as Armik. His middle of the road, supermarket style guitar albums, with easy listening arrangements of evergreens like "Unchained Melody", and "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" are nice if you like that sort of thing. You will not be disappointed if you are looking for a sweet Xmas present for your grandmother to replace her worn out Richard Clayderman records.

To be fair, he does actually play some earthy flamenco solos on his album "Flamenco Y Rosas". The "Sevillanas" is sort of OK, and his "Bulerias" is not hard to listen to, even though I had trouble following the compás. It's such a pity the rest of the album wasn't as honest. The other flamenco sounding titles like "Malagueña", "Tango Flamenco" and "Guajiras" were a bit of a letdown for me because they were nothing more than stylized classical guitar arrangements with flamenco titles. "Flamenco Wind" had a distinct Strunz & Farah feel about it. This is a pretty piece, but it could have been called "Bermuda Wind" if blind Freddie was listening to it through headphones. It takes a generous stretch of the imagination to hear anything even remotely flamenco-ish in it.

This unlikely commercial success, naturally enough, has smoked out critics. "Every real musician I know in town just can't stand him," says Eric Bart, a Phoenix jazz guitarist, with a sneer. "He's an entertainer, not a musician. It's the worst, most pandering watered-down Muzak." (In his defense), Esteban says he has never heard of Mr. Bart. "I play for the masses," he says.

Esteban goes into the non-flamenco sin bin, not because of any real fault of his own, but because CD reviewers and the general public like to refer to him as a flamenco guitarist and his style as flamenco. Shame on them. If you like easy listening style guitar evergreens, you will be delighted. If you want real flamenco my advice is, "Don't go there".


As a footnote, it is worth mentioning that Mr Paul had a serious automobile accident in 1980 and suffered nerve damage to his spine and to his hands. To his credit, he obviously overcame this setback and got on with his life.


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