Diego el Cigala Credit: Anya Bartels-Suermondt

Over the last several decades few figures in traditional flamenco have matched the power of native Madrileño Jiménez Salazar (better known as Diego el Cigala), whose appealingly gruff timbre, deep emotional reserves, and effortless range can compare with legendary antecedents such as Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente. Though he hasn’t achieved their stature, his deep curiosity and natural versatility make it apparent that he’s on his way to doing so. Early in his career el Cigala began stretching tradition through beautifully measured collaborations with veteran Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, locating the Spanish heart of Cuban son. He later found similar connections with Argentine tango. In both cases he retained the purity of his flamenco roots while extending them. On his 2016 album Indestructible (Sony Music Latin) he pulled them into another new direction, diving straight into vintage salsa, with an emphasis on the classic sounds propagated by Fania Records in New York during the 60s and 70s; on a cover of Cheo Feliciano’s great “El Ratón,” Fania producer and pianist Larry Harlow and percussionist Roberto Roena play in the high-powered band behind him. Elsewhere Cuban jazz polymath pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba joins in on some contemporary arrangements that prove the singer isn’t merely interested in a nostalgia trip. On “El Paso de Encarnación,” one of numerous tracks cut in Colombia with the Cali Salsa Big Band, Venezuelan salsero great Oscar D’León sings a chorus while syncopating handclaps underline the ever-lasting heat of flamenco. El Cigala fronts a ten-member band in his first Chicago date since 2011.   v

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