Chris Burton studied flamenco guitar in Seville, Spain. - Photo courtesy of Sylvia Hardt

Them ol' Spanish blues

Flamenco uses simple instruments. Its rhythmic foundation is hand-clapping. Its intent is to create the most music with a minimal number of instruments, such as guitar and cájon. Yet its passion and artistry could take a lifetime to master.

"It's a Gypsy art form," says guitarist Chris Burton. "These are very, very poor, nomadic and marginalized people. One could call flamenco the 'blues' of Spain."

The Chris Burton Jácome Flamenco Ensemble performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

Also important to the Andalusian music of southern Spain is its communication between the musicians, singers and dancers, Burton says.

"To really be called flamenco, the elements can't be separated," he says. "Family is another important part of flamenco. Gypsies live in close-knit groups, or tribes. They're bound by social ties."

Burton's family of flamenco artists is made up of Adrian Goldenthal on electric bass, vocalist Chayito Champion, Kris Hill on cájon, doumbek and cymbal and dancers Lena Jácome, Julia Chacón and Martin Gaxiola.

Burton earned degrees in classical guitar and in Spanish literature from the University of Arizona in Tucson, then moved to Seville, Spain, for a year.

"I knew I wanted to play flamenco, but there was no such training in Tucson," he says. "I took as many private classes as I could afford in Seville and studied with some great performers. I found guitar teacher Miguel Aragón there, and he introduced me to dancer Juana Imaya and other artists.

"It was like being thrown into the water to learn to swim," he says. "I spent years just digesting all of the information about accompaniment and interaction.

"Improvisation is vital, and audiences will be surprised at the amount of communication and interaction that takes place during a flamenco performance," he says.

Back in Arizona, Burton met his wife, Jácome.

"She has a fine-arts degree and a master's in ballet, modern performance and choreography," Burton says. "She started dancing flamenco after we met."

Dancer Gaxiola hails from Arizona, but learned his fancy footwork in Seville; Chacón is from Santa Fe, N.M.; and Champion is based in San Antonio.

"Chayito comes from a flamenco family," Burton says. "Her father is a guitarist, and her mother is a dancer. She was brought up to be a singer."

Champion sang vocals on Burton's fourth album, "Levanto," released in 2010. Two songs from the album, "Sin Ti" and "Ritmo-Canix," won grand prizes at the 2010 John Lennon songwriting contest.

Champion will perform "Sin Ti" at Saturday's show.

"It's a ballad and not about the height of love," Burton says. "The title translates to 'Without You.' I call it a 'miserable love song,' but Chayito sings it beautifully."

Other highlights of the show include Gaxiola's dancing.

"He's a powerful dancer — rhythmically alive," Burton says. "We'll end the show with 'Alegrias,' an uplifting song accompanied by a dance with Martin."

Tickets cost $25, $5 for ages 18 and younger, and are available at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., Medford, online at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

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