Jose Merce, one of Spain’s most popular flamenco singers (from Jerez, a storied city for flamenco artists), has worked in a distinctly contemporary vein since the 70s, adding electric bass, keyboards, and drums to his recordings and embracing topical subject matter and metaphors–like declaring that what a tired heart needs is new batteries. But on his most recent recording, the spectacular Lio (Virgin), he’s clearly showing off his traditional chops. Flamenco singing is always fiery and packed with emotional passion, but Merce’s nasal ululations are a cut above the expected–it’s little wonder he’s an icon in his homeland. All the compositions are by producer Isidro Munoz, with the exception of “Te recuerdo Amanda,” by Chilean nuevo cancion legend Victor Jara–but Merce makes them his own with his swooping glissando and daringly jagged intervals. In his Chicago debut–part of the monthlong “Flamenco 2004” series presented by the Instituto Cervantes–his band will include a longtime collaborator, the magnificent guitarist Moraito Chico. Ensemble Espanol opens. Other performers in the series are Gerardo Nunez with Antonio Alvarez “Pitingo” (February 9 at the Chicago Cultural Center), Ojos de Brujo (February 14 at Martyrs’), and Paco de Lucia (February 16 at Symphony Center); see www.cervantes1.org for more. Thursday, February 5, 7 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212.