This 4-disc box set, issued by the British Nimbus label in 2000, is a collection of four previously-released live albums from the label. Three of the four feature singers and guitarists performing cante with the traditional-style vocals of María la Burra, María Soleá, José de la Tomasa, Chano Lobato, Manuel de Paula, Gaspar de Utrera, Miguel Funi, El Cabrero, Tina Pavón, Emilia Jandra, Rafael Calderón, Manuel Márquez, and Monica Dominguez--all of whom deserve mention because they are all excellent in conveying the passion and intensity of the form.
On two of the cante discs, the guitarists, who play with great dexterity, emotion and the use of variations are Paco del Gastor and his brother Juan. They provide a perfect accompaniment to the vocalists in the environments of flamenco clubs, with a few in larger concert settings. The fourth disc, another cante, features guitarist Manolo Dominguez, whose daughter Monica is one of the five vocalists, with the material also recorded in clubs.
The third disc is a spotlight for Paco del Gastor, whose talents took him from his native Morón de la Frontera, where much of this music was recorded and where the del Gastor dynasty of excellent guitarists were from, to the Spanish capital Madrid. After hearing three recordings of cante, in which the singers are justly at the fore, demonstrating their various talents and abilities to the fullest, it is a bit jarring to hear a solo guitar performance--at least at the beginning. But, Paco del Gastor is such an amazing performer that any sense of disconnect melts away quickly as the listener is absorbed in the work of this master.
That said, the highlight of this box, at least for this listener, are the two performances at the end of the second disc, Cante Flamenco, in which the del Gastor brothers take a back seat to the remarkable talents of El Cabrero (José Dominguez Muñoz), who had a twelve-year partnership with Paco del Gastor.
That synergy definitely shows on these pieces, recorded at a larger festival, but El Cabrero is the main attraction, with his vocals featuring a distinctive ululating at the end of certain phrases, a very strong elongating of the syllables that characterize the cante, but in a way that appears more like a plaintive and anguished cry, and politicized lyrical content.
There is a lot of material in this set, four-and-half hours worth, but most of it consists of rare instances of traditional pieces recorded in small flamenco clubs in Andalucia, the cradle of the form, and this is a paramount reason to shell out for the whole set, though the individual discs are available from Nimbus. Those who favor the guitar work over the vocals would be advised to search out the Flamenco de la Frontera disc from Paco del Gastor, or the several albums on Nimbus from Paco Peña, another giant of the flamenco guitar.
For this listener, relatively new to the music, though, the vocals seem essential in conveying the passion and intensity as reflected in the cante that is ultimately the heart and soul of flamenco.