On a stopover in Madrid during a six-month European tour in 1956, Lionel Hampton recorded what's possibly one of the strangest and most interesting albums in his discography. This album includes local castanets player named Maria Angelica. By featuring castanets, Hampton added a unexpected peppery flavor. In Angelica's hands, the castanets actually swings than just exotic percussion.
Recorded on June 30, 1956, Jazz Flamenco featured Hampton's full 17-piece band plus several unnamed Spanish percussionists. Hampton also recorded three tracks with a smaller, breakout group he dubbed the "Flamenco Five." The album showcases a wide range of beats I've Got a Brand New Baby, for example, is a roadhouse blues while Bop City Flamenco has an Afro-Cuban undertone, and Lovely Nights in Spain has much in common with Midnight Sun.
Here's an excerpt from the original liner notes:
"Hamp's was the first band to tour Spain, where this record was cut. In Barcelona, the band performed in a bull ring to a roaring, rocking audience of 19,000. Hampton played the familiar strains of the famed Toreador theme in swing tempo. For his contribution to Spanish-American understanding, Ambassador John Lodge presented Hampton with an official commendation. Recalling the huge crowd in the amphitheater, Hampton says with a grin, 'Man, it's probably the first time the cats outdrew the bulls.' One hot summer night in Madrid, Hampton, who has the showman's instinct for absorbing something of the flavor of wherever it may be that he's working, conceived this album. He came roaring out of a monumental 48-hour session in one of the city's best flamenco spots. Hampton said, 'There was a chick there, Maria Angelica, one of the great Spanish flamenco artists, and I dug her the most. I said to myself, 'Man, you got to get this together with the band.' So we did."
Six of the 10 tunes on this album were written by Hampton, but the arrangements unfortunately go uncredited. Probably the big band numbers were the handiwork of Bobby Plater, who contributed charts to Hampton's band prior to this date and is on alto sax and flute here.
To give you a sense of what's makes this album so exciting and cutting-edge, the standard Spain opens with just the heat of Angelica's castanets. Then Hampton comes in with those ice-blue vibes, Angelica drops out and doesn't re-appear until the end. On Hot Club of Madrid Serenade, Angelica swings on the castanets throughout, adding a hot-tempered tension to the swinging big-band track.
Perhaps the album's biggest surprise is the duet between pianist Tete Montoliu [pictured] and Hampton on Tenderly. This was the blind pianist's first record date. He was spotted by Hampton back in March 1956 during the band's stopover in Barcelona. Montoliu then toured with Hampton's band for the balance of the European engagement. On Tenderly, Montoliu solos for the first five minutes of the track before Hampton joins in, and the brilliant ballad execution established Montoliu instantly as a serious jazz artist.
01. I've Got A Brand New Baby
02. Bop City Flamenco
03. Lovely Nights In spain
05. The Bullfighter From Madrid
06. Hamp's Jazz Flamenco
08. Hot Club Of Madrid Serenade
09. Toldeo Blade
10. Flamenco Soul
Recorded in Madrid, 1956