Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra

El Viento-The Garcia Lorca Project


by Ian Mann

June 28, 2009


A stirring but sometimes over-egged mix of jazz, flamenco and classical elements

The American composer/arranger/conductor Vince Mendoza is nothing if not prolific. Quickly following on from 2008’s Grammy nominated ACT release “Blauklang” ( we have this exploration of the musical legacy of the celebrated Spanish playwright, poet and musician Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936).
Although best known as a writer Lorca was also a talented musician with a penchant for collecting Spanish folk songs which he performed on piano in conjunction with the singer Encarnacion Lopez . The pair actually made some recordings in 1931 thereby providing the initial genesis of this current project.
In 1979 the flamenco singer Camaron de la Isla set a number of Lorca’s poems to music on the album “La Leyenda del Tiempo”. The combination of Lorca’s poems plus an unusual instrumental line up including kit drums,electric guitar and even sitar made this a revolutionary flamenco record and another seed for Mendoza’s project. 

Moving on to 1992 the Dutch musician and composer Niko Langenhuijsen and his twelve piece ensemble Caoutchouc recorded an album of Langenhuijsen’s settings of Lorca’s words plus three pieces from the Camaron de la Isla album. “Caoutchouc Plays Lorca” was essentially a jazz album within a flamenco framework and in 1998 the music was successfully performed live in the Netherlands. By now Langenhuijsen had increased the music’s flamenco content and written arrangements of Lorca’s original 1931 folk songs. This was to prove the final piece in the jigsaw leading to this latest look at Lorca’s musical legacy.

Mendoza is the chief conductor of the 57 piece Dutch Metropole Orchestra whose line up includes jazz instruments including saxophones, kit drums and electric guitar alongside the more traditional orchestral strings and horns. For his own take on Lorca Mendoza has also drafted in as soloists the singers Rafael De Utrera and Eva de Dios, guitarist Daniel Mendez, Cajonista Udo Demandt plus Arturo Ramon on palmas (handclaps) and dancer Daniel Navarro. Jennifer Barnes, Cindy Bourquin and Elin Carlson provide a “choir” of vocalists. De Utrera appeared in Langenhuijsen’s 1998 Lorca concert, the sole survivor here from the previous projects.
Mendoza makes reference to all these previous sources in this stirring mix of jazz, flamenco and classical elements. The album opens with “La Cancion del Mariquita” written by Camaron de la Isla’s one time collaborator Ricardo Pachon and arranged by Mendoza. It’s a rousing start featuring Eva de Dios’ impassioned vocal and Mendez’s guitar. Snatches of jazz saxophone combine with classical and flamenco elements.

The three part “Historietas del Viento” is a reprise of Langenhuijsen’s composition and arrangement. Parts one and two feature sweetly effective vocals by the choir of Barnes, Bourquoin and Carlson within breezy jazz arrangements that even allow a little solo space for the jazz instrumentalists among the orchestra’s number. The brooding Part III (“La Brisa”) is altogether more sombre with the choir backing lead vocalist de Dios. There’s also a haunting, uncredited trumpet solo- shades of “Sketches Of Spain” here.
Mendoza’s arrangement of the traditional folk song “La Tarara” features an extraordinary vocal performance from de Utrera, the voice so brimful of emotion it’s almost a cry. However for me the rather over bearing orchestral arrangement is something of a distraction.

The memorable melody of another traditional folk song follows. Arranged here by Joan Albert Amargos “De Los Cuatros Muleros” (the four mule drivers) also appears on Charlie Haden’s “Liberation Music Orchestra” (as “Los Cuatros Generales) and more recently on Alec Dankworth’s splendid “Spanish Accents”. Here the piece opens with the recitation of a Lorca verse and Hans Vroomans’ piano solo provides some jazz interest. 
Yet more traditional material follows with de Dios singing Mendoza’s arrangement of the rousing call to arms that is “Sevillanas Del Siglo XVIII”. A real flag waver this one albeit with a sombre coda from which emerges Langenhuijsen’s arrangement of Pachon’s “La Nana del Caballo Grande”.

De Utrera’s distinctive, anguished vocal contrasts well with Mendez’s contemplative guitar.
“Los Peregrenitos” is another arrangement of a traditional tune by Joan Albert Amargos with a powerful vocal by de Dios allied to a “big band” arrangement with palmas and cajon adding some flamenco colouration.

“Angeles Negros” is a composition by Jose Ortega Heredia aka Manzanita arranged here by Mendoza. It’s a brooding work featuring the distinctive vocal of de Utrera.
“Los Mozos de Monleon” is an Amargos arrangement of a traditional folk song opening with voice of de Dios accompanied by Mendez’s guitar. The sparse beauty of the duet is a welcome contrast to the orchestral sound of much of the album. The second half of the piece features an orchestral jazz arrangement by Mendoza.

Finally comes “La Leyanda del Tiempo” composed by Pachon and Arranged by Langenhuijsen, a piece that ties all the various “Lorca Projects” together. It’s also one of the album’s most successful pieces with a powerful vocal from de Dios, lively performances from the flamenco artists and some genuine jazz soloing from an unidentified saxophonist

For all that I have to admit that “El Viento” is not an album I see myself returning to very often. I’m sure there is much to admire here and that the album is a success on it’s terms but the clash of styles doesn’t really cohere for me and I often find the orchestration overbearing and syrupy. There have been successful jazz/flamenco collaborations before but usually with a more pared down line up. There is just too much going on here for it all to make any real sense and the whole concoction seems rather over-egged. 

Also I’m not sure quite how much of Mendoza himself there is in this project. Much of the album seems to be a re-hash of what Langenhuijsen and others have done before but not having heard these previous incarnations it’s impossible for me to say how much fresh insight Mendoza has brought to his chosen material.

There are some memorable moments here thanks in part to the emotive vocals of de Utrera and De Dios and some distinctive instrumental contributions especially from Mendez but for all the admirable qualities this is not a record I can bring myself to genuinely like as a whole.

blog comments powered by Disqus