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Vince Mendoza/Arif Mardin: Jazzpana

Jazzpana begins with a straight flamenco track by Los Jovenes Flamencos, with dramatic guitar declamations and an arresting vocal by Ramon “El Portugues.” The dark, desperate mood of the flamenco captivates you so thoroughly that you barely notice when the WDR Big Band comes in on the second track. By the time Al Di Meola’s electric guitar arcs over the music, though, you’ll probably have noticed just how many performers there are on this album, and wonder at how they combine to make such propulsive, alluring music.

Most of the credit should go to Vince Mendoza, conductor of all these diverse elements and arranger of six of Jazzpana’s nine tracks. Mendoza’s arrangements emphasize flamenco rather than jazz, with the flamenco hand-rhythms a constant presence and the big band making dark noises that fit the flamenco mood, with lots of muted brass. But the jazzmen are far from dead weight: The flamenco sound becomes even more lustrous with the additional timbres, and the big band provides ear-tickling timbres, like the tubas murmuring along with the flamenco guitar on “Tangos.” Flamencoist Jorge Pardo, playing saxophone, gets the plurality of the solo work; his fiery eruptions set an example for outsiders like Di Meola and Michael Brecker, who deliver poised yet passionate riffs.

Arif Mardin, who spends most of his time producing gigantic pop hits, contributes a “Suite Fraternidad” that shows what jazz with flamenco accents sounds like: the WDR Big Band dominates, with more extroverted melodies and a brassier sound, but Pardo’s solos keep the flamenco mood alive. Throughout, by carefully managing the outstanding musicians involved, Mendoza ensures that Jazzpana brings out the best in both its genres.

Originally Published