Discovery Firm's popular Flamenco — Made in Spain CD (released several years ago) offered desktop musicians a chance to add flamenco's unique excitement and exotic rhythms to their projects. The Japanese company has now reissued the content from the earlier CD as a new two-disc Alma Flamenco library ($55) that combines Red Book audio tracks with matching Acidized WAV and REX2 files.
The first CD includes 65 audio tracks that are subdivided with index numbers yielding 529 samples of individual sounds and phrases. The second CD offers essentially the same material in the form of 600 Acidized and 342 REX2 samples. (The REX2 files don't include the individual notes and hits.)
One of Alma Flamenco's greatest strengths is the authenticity of its performances. Guitarists Pepe Nuñez and José Losada and singers Eva Cortés and Toni Silva Ramírez deliver a traditional flamenco sound with all of the proper Andalusian color and style. Unlike some libraries, these samples were not made from field recordings; they were carefully recorded in a Madrid studio. The clean recording quality and close-miking of the guitar parts is especially nice, showing the gritty, intense character that makes flamenco so appealing. With little natural reverb in the recordings, the samples allow for greater latitude in processing and placing the sounds in a mix.
Alma Flamenco begins with several dozen guitar-accompaniment patterns. The first few generic rasgueados (rolls) in various keys are less than impressive, but the two-guitar rumba patterns that follow are excellent. So too are the other fine rhythmic patterns from several of the most popular standard flamenco song forms: bulerías, alegrías, seguiriyas, and solearas.
The performances are consistently top-notch and capture the traditional song-form styles beautifully. The folklike sevillanas is also represented with several two-guitar phrases in which the instruments are panned hard left and right for a nice wide-open sound.
I was glad to see that Alma Flamenco also includes several rhythmic phrases played with muted guitar. (The guitarist's left hand mutes the strings, while the right hand strums various rhythm patterns.) This is an important flamenco element that is often overlooked in sample libraries.
Following the muted-guitar section are more than two dozen picado phrases. (These are the explosive runs and bursts of notes often heard in flamenco guitar pieces.) Fans of the Gipsy Kings will appreciate a second section of well-performed rumba accompaniments. Unfortunately, there are no indications of the chords or keys, so using the phrases may involve a bit of trial and error.
Among the best samples in the library are the 22 short excerpts from traditional-style falsetas (solo-guitar variations). They represent well-played examples from several song forms. It's too bad they aren't identified: that keeps nonflamenco musicians from properly joining them to the appropriate accompaniment phrases from the first part of the library.
Voices and Percussion
A large part of Alma Flamenco is dedicated to vocal samples, including male and female phrases that are brief fragments from typical flamenco songs. The singing captures the proper inflection and vocal quality with samples ranging from upbeat alegrías phrases to more chantlike expressions.
The remaining part of the vocal section consists of male, female, and group jaleo (shouts). These colorful and often humorous elements are an essential part of every flamenco performance, and they are surprisingly difficult to produce convincingly if you are not from Spain.
The rest of the library is devoted to flamenco-related percussion, including cajon (flamenco rhythm box) with hits, flams, endings, and several rumba loops. The cajon playing is first rate, and the instrument delivers the proper snarelike upper sounds and deep-bass lower sounds. The samples, however, are a bit muddy, which is not surprising; the cajon is a tricky instrument to record.
Other percussion sounds included in the library are palmas (clapping), pitos (finger snapping), and castanets. I like the palmas, especially the contratiempo loops with opposing groups panned hard left and right. The castanet hits, flams, rolls, and loops also sound very good. The remaining samples include excellent taconeo (rhythmic heel tapping) with a couple of longer phrases that are quite impressive.
Alma Flamenco is a complete toolbox for adding authentic traditional-sounding flamenco samples to your music. Its biggest shortcoming is its lack of printed documentation. (A track list is provided as an unformatted text document on the second CD.) That is too bad, because this is an otherwise fine library at a very reasonable price. With better documentation, it could even serve as a unique learning tool.