CD REVIEW: Eric Kamen - Serenades
by: Cyrus Rhodes
Flamenco, Spanish Smooth Jazz, Electronica, Hip Hop
Eric Kamen is a New York City born-and-bred musician, composer and producer. In a two-week break between producing engagements largely out of boredom, Eric recorded a CD using his own instrumental tracks from his work as a producer, but using his Spanish guitar instead of singers or rappers. He timidly put the tracks on Myspace in 2005 and was very surprised by the reaction. “Within a few months, I had well over 500,000 Myspace fans. This was a bigger reaction than we got from any of our R&B or Hip Hop artists,” recalls Kamen back in the early days of social media. This CD entitled “Serenades” is a cutting edge combination of Flamenco and Hip Hop – should be interesting to say the least.
The CD wastes no time getting off the ground with gently takes to flight with “The Lost Tribe” an intoxicating intro piece that flows and ebbs its way through to musical fruition serving up impressive fretwork exuberance against atypical Flamenco vibe with synthetic beat that gently leads you by the hand. Track 2 “The Social Club” is a slamming follow up piece that serves up impressive Spanish-guitar-driven balladry against fluid guitar and easy to follow Smooth Jazz rhythmic overtones. Track 3 “A Rose from Russia” presents a more mainstream melody with its methodical intro, meshed against impassioned solo guitar and hypnotic groove. The CD makes a great first impression providing 3 solid musical experiences in a row. Musical textures reminiscent of the typical Gold Standard Spanish Flamenco, but there is an undeniable Fusionist Hip Hop, Smooth Jazz Electronica rhythmic flair to it as well. As the CD slowly unfolds you will notice most of the songs are quite dynamic reminiscent of The Rippingtons, Camaron da la Isla, Tomatito, Manolo Sanlucar, Paco Pena and Sabicas. Each piece possesses crystal clear high end clarity, solid low end punch with Spanish guitar chops that will make your head spin. Along the musical journey one will experience well-placed electronic percussive accents, impressive Spanish style (Nylon String) guitar, sizzling Flamenco solo segments, eloquent, strings and easy to follow beats. Now turning our attention over to Eric Kamen. As his playing ability let me just go on record to say he brilliantly fuses all of the aforementioned via his guitar. This is not just World Class Flamenco Jazz but a fusion of many different types of playing styles built upon a traditional Smooth Spanish Jazz foundation. Some of the material could even be marketed as Smooth Jazz radio formats reminiscent of Russ Freeman and The Rippingtons. Kamen is on to something here as he navigates through each piece flawlessly. Kamen is a master Flamenco guitarist/soloist and clearly knows how to fill the sonic space with amazing playing that flows across the ears like fine wine. At times can be passionate, aggressive and tenacious, other times fluid and flowing. The music itself goes down smooth and fills the atmosphere with what I would describe as peaceful Spanish Smooth Jazz tranquility. All in all the CD has some truly impressive moments showcasing impressive playing, world Class songwriting, playing, chops and dynamic grooves all rich in melody and flavor. From the flowing “Love Letter” and “River Song” to seductive “The Tease” to rocking “Red Moon” and “Tribute to Jimi” to melodic “La Cubana” and “The Blue Grotto” to mystical “Gypsy Serenade” this CD has something for just about everyone. The CD ends with Track 15 “Golden Girl” the prefect finale statement for a CD of this caliber.
It’s fair to say the electronic beats and rhythms featured are overly synthetic, overly conservative, extremely predictable (all in 4/4) thin and robotic sounding thus lacking variety, frequency and depth. It kind of sounds like Kamen is playing to a drum machine – hence the first paragraph. Kamen can take this approach but should consider bringing in an experienced beat master to bring in even more rhythmic variety, layering, frequency and depth to the music. If he does this – this Flamenco/Hip Hop approach would definitely reach its full potential. Track 1 and 2 feel like an incomplete statements to me.
After spending some quality time with “Serenades” by Eric Kamen it's hard to find any solid weaknesses worth mentioning. Instead as the CD progressed I became more and more impressed with the production as a whole. Not bad for being bored during a two week period. CD refuses to try too hard. “Serenades” is in itself an impressive musical production from start to finish. There’s not really a weak song on this entire catalog period! The songs are infectious, catchy and cover a wide range of musical styles. Each one possessing a unique personality, flair and signature groove. Eric Kamen is not only a world class player, he’s also a talented producer and musical visionary that’s not afraid to push the musical boundaries to the maximum.
Cyrus Rhodes Rhodes