David Scott McLean releases Te Canto Colores

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Flamenco guitarist David Scott McLean explores beauty in his own backyard

Guitarist’s 2nd album features a talented cast of Oakland-based flamenco artists

Te Canto Colores (Nov 12, 2021, self release) was recorded in David Scott McLean’s backyard studio. He built the studio with his own hands in place of a 1920’s teardown garage that had met its last earthquake. “I built the space as a creative sanctuary where I could compose this music, where I could record this album,” he says. “It also became a place to escape the ‘wrath’ of my kids.” The album showcases all originals from McLean, inspired by something his maestro once told him: Hay que decir lo tuyo. “He meant that, in addition to learning other people’s music, you have to explore and come up with your own music, and develop your own style,” says McLean. “I’m glad he encouraged me to do that.”

McLean has been musical director, composer, and performer in several Bay Area theatre productions, including stage adaptations of Lorca’s Blood Wedding and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Recently, he was commissioned to play for an AguaClara Flamenco performance at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival’s 40th anniversary. David has also created music for many stage performances with La Tania, Melissa Cruz, Fanny Ara, Theatre Flamenco, Caminos Flamencos, AguaClara Flamenco, and many others.

The guitarist spent three years in Granada, Spain, studying with flamenco masters like Rafalin Habichuela and Emilio Maya. His playing has rightly been described as “subtle and driving” by The San Francisco Chronicle. Indeed, he somehow manages to combine great tenderness with searing boldness.

While most of the songs on Te Canto Colores feature McLean’s instrumental flamenco fire to the nth degree, he also wrote two vocal tracks—including the title song that features his wife, Clara Rodriguez, who is not only a wonderful singer but also a celebrated flamenco dancer. Rodriguez  honed her craft while working in the tablaos (places where flamenco is performed) in Granada and Sevilla. The song was written for their newborn daughter, Stella, who spent three months in the hospital near the onset of the pandemic. During the chorus, Rodriguez sings, Cuando llores niña cuando llores, lloro contigo y te canto colores / un estuario de tu alma, un río dentro y fuera del mar . . . translated as: When you cry little one, I cry with you and sing you colors / An estuary of your soul, a river inside and out to sea. The song’s mood poignantly captures a father (and mother) rooting for his little girl to thrive and survive, while McLean’s effusive playing evokes how the pandemic wasn’t all dark; it also brought out the best of humanity.  

In “Mulhacén,” the guitarist conjures visions of the great mountain that serves as Granada’s stunning backdrop. “I used to hike up Mulhacén to get away from the city,” he reminisces. Though McLean’s compositional style is singular in its dynamic intimacy, his songs also observe traditional flamenco idioms, called palos, which provide both structure and freedom for McLean. In this way, he explores the artform’s semi-improvisational and collaborative nature. Capturing the essence of spontaneity, he infuses these recordings with jaleos (cheers), palmas (handclaps), and playful remates—climaxes that flamenco is famous for. 

Years of playing traditional flamenco shows have clearly informed McLean’s multi-faceted sense of compás (rhythm). Take the song “A Caballo,” in which he emulates the Bulerias style of Jerez de la Frontera, a city with a strong equestrian presence where he stayed for several months. “When played in combination with a certain groove on cajón, it sounds a lot like a horse galloping,” he says. “It’s a fun thing to visualize while playing music.”  

“Tala Groove” is McLean’s slight departure from flamenco, highlighting his love for jazz, and the tabla and tonbak as percussive accompaniments. “Tala is the word used in Indian classical music for ‘meter’ and also happens to be the name of Josh’s (percussionist) dog,” he says. “So we named the tune after our furry friend.”  

In 2007, McLean composed and recorded his first album, Found in Spain, thanks to the generosity of the legendary Jackson Browne, who happens to be a flamenco enthusiast. McLean met him one night at a gathering and slipped a demo into the rock star’s hands. Browne was so impressed with what he heard, he offered McLean the use of his private studio to record the album, free of charge. Just Jazz Guitar called the resulting album “eight unique sculptures of chord color, raw guts, and soaring linear tapestries.”      

The CD release will be at the Sound Room in Oakland, California, on Nov. 14, 2021, where McLean has been producing a monthly sold-out flamenco cycle for the last 10 years. Of note, Oakland has one of the most knowledgeable and authentic flamenco scenes outside of Spain. As his musical journey continues, McLean hopes to help sustain the important flamenco traditions of Andalucia and bring them to an American audience.

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