In some ways, a sociologist or anthropologist might report a Carlos Montoya recital better than a music critic. An explanation for this guitarist’s enduring hold on American audiences is not easily found in his art itself.

An adulatory, capacity audience at Ambassador Auditorium on Sunday night proved once again that flamenco is a state of mind.

Or perhaps it is a spiritual state, for true belief is a more important element than aesthetic or cultural appreciation in a Montoya recital. There are certainly more fiery flamenco personalities than Montoya, guitarists faster and cleaner, interpreters more imaginatively innovative or more staunchly traditional.

Yet for many, the short, rotund Gypsy with his friendly, perpetually bemused air defines flamenco guitar music. The Montoya sound is uniquely twangy and buzzy, reinforced by high amplification. That reduces his powerful rasqueado strumming to the sound of a crude snare drum.


The energy he generates with his rasqueado passes, or those heavy, murky bass runs, is usually aborted with stultifyingly extended left-hand trills and turns. Such minor technical stunts, often imperfectly executed--his tremolo was astonishingly slow and uneven--are the substance of a Montoya interpretation.

The only recognizable traditional element in his “Petenera,” for example, was a quotation of the Andalusian song “Zorongo.” He was at his best in the less traditional numbers, such as his “Macarena en Tango,” though even his patented “Saeta” processional suffered technically.

This should definitely be considered a minority report. A standing ovation brought Montoya out for a lone encore.