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|||| Lawrence Russell ||||

Stephan Duros: flamenco guitar, keyboards, percussion
Jason Shapiro: congas, bongos & timbales

Miranda calli by Jun Shan

production & mix stephen duros | co-produced Chris Torrey & James Brummett | recorded at Studio 490, North Hollywood | mastered by Jon Gagan @ The Electric Company, Santa Fe

*download this album from SSRI »»

Stephen Duros: Miranda

§ After listening to Stephen Duros' new SSRI release MIRANDA, I woke up the next morning thinking the album was called "Manzilla", and the cover graphic was a body chick like Jennifer Lopez with a reptilian head and a saw-tooth smile. A dream, of course... and so antithetical to the true romantic feel of these superb jazz flamenco tracks, I wondered who or what the hell.

The culprit? Neither Stephen nor his album, but rather Arturo Perez-Reverte's novel The Queen of the South, something I was reading while listening to Miranda and kicking back a bottle of Pisano Uruguayan red. The story is about tough Mexicana chick called Teresa Mendoza who rises from poverty to control a drug cartel. A "manzilla" for sure, yet there's something of a Miranda in this fictional lady too... that wounded flamenca fatale vibe, a bird shot from the sky who rises to fly once again. There's more romance in Miranda, but she's edgy too.

Miranda... who is she, you think? That icy moon that orbits the planet Uranus? Or that character in Shakespeare's play The Tempest, about the people shipwrecked on an island, the source of the TV series Lost, even if the script writers don't know it. If you've travelled in Spain, you might've passed through Miranda de Ebro, that ancient northern city on the river... and of course you know that the word comes from Old Occitan, meaning "watchtower" and as you know this is a nuevo flamenco album, then this Spanish connection is probably what Stephen Duros has in mind. A beautiful Latina in the watchtower, who dances in the moonlight, a phantom of our desires.

The title tune (mp3) is a rumba, kicks ass all the way to the bullring and back to the bodega. It has a raunchiness to it, like a Sinaloan mariachi full-tilt at midnight. Technique? This flamenco has plenty, yet is never showy, never beside the point, never deploying speed runs for practice or vanity. The composition is everything: tone, narrative, and the flamenco feel. This sense of balance between aesthetics and virtuosity is a real measure of talent, and this album displays plenty.

And the track sequence -- does it flow?

§ As you listen, a narrative emerges, or so it seems to me, although I admit my mind is colored by Perez-Riverte's novel. But they go well together, this Miranda and Teresa, this blending of hip Norte Americano and old Spain, Teresa a story in words, Miranda a story without any. Miranda is an instrumental corrido, a dream ballad.

"Miranda's a different animal from Thira, but I believe it has its own way of telling a story," says Stephen, referring to his last album. "Flamenco with a techno feel, sure... West Coast, let's say."

Track 2. West Coast Sun... a brisk horse ride in the hills, with three passages, three tonalities, one an especially interesting change-up to the low register, as if the sun has dropped close to the ridgeline, and through the openings, the sea emerges. The lovers arrive at the shoreline, greet the slow, rolling surf, and the sun disappears into the Pacific. While this "footprints in the sand" description seems predictable within the lexicon of romantic acoustic guitar, believe me, there's nothing predictable about it at all. SD is good at working the unfamiliar into the familiar... and the tonal shifting here allows you to imagine all sorts of scenarios.

Stephen Duros pic by James Brummett

3. November has a wistful intro, like a memory of a summer romance, the easy heat... and within this, an anticipation of the cooling night of winter. You won't fail to be impressed by the jazzy interludes where SD runs the fretboard fast and clean.

The sun sets, and it's now time for a Sleepwalk (track 4)... the guitar melody steps slowly into the night, established by a deep chordal wall sustained by a synth. What is it about somnambulism that draws guitarists to interpret its altered reality? I'm thinking of the 1958 Santo & Johnny classic of the same name that's been kept alive by rock guitarists down through the ages -- perhaps you can find a version by Larry Carlton on Youtube -- although it's nothing like SD's composition, except by astral intent.

[b.t.w. there is a very funky club version of S.D.'s Sleepwalk at the SSRI Listening Lounge produced by Simon Phillips, the drummer for Toto]

Want to step out, go gypsy French Quarter? 5. Tonight has that speedy single string trill jump with a bongo chatter, a Mediterranean port sound, laced with American jazz and Moroccan kief, crazy like Django. Or perhaps you feel like a little West Coast -- try Track 6, Embrace, a subtle rumba with nuevo flamenco textures, a spacey synth and Wes Montgomery guitar octaves. On it goes. SD has the chops, including the classic flamenco licks, and once again it's amazing how much a player can pull out of the Phrygian mode. Even the closing track, Kallistos -- reminiscent of the mythological mood in SD's last album Thira -- draws the ancient Mediterranean sound into a new techno expression.

Superb mastering here by Jon Gagan, the bassist for Luna Negra who runs his own studio The Electric Company in Santa Fe. You want nice spacial imaging for your listening pleasure? Of course you, and Miranda has it. Besides the title track featured at the current CC Audio page, you can sample all the tracks at the SSRI Listening Lounge, and download the entire album, including graphics.

LR © Nov 2008

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*When he's not playing in Luna Negra or running lights or shooting vid for Toto, Stephen Duros (bio) is now recording his next album and playing gigs in the San Francisco Bay area.


Culture Court | © 2008 | Lawrence Russell