Review written by: Raul da Gama -
Elio Villafranca is one of the most exciting young trio of pianists to come out of Cuba in recent years; the other two being David Virelles and Aruán Ortiz. That number may well have been a quartet, had Arturo Stable chosen to remain a pianist—an instrument he started out with—before he chose percussion as his means of musical communication. But then again, Villafranca did begin his musical life as a percussionist before he chose the piano as his instrument. That both musicians appear to have chosen wisely is beyond doubt with the release of Dos y Más. Unusual maturity and erudition appear to flow through the music of this album and whether this is a result of the fact that each is sensitive to the demands and characteristics of the other’s instrument is a moot point here. However, the rarity and exquisite nature of their collaboration shines through and makes this more than merely an outstanding feature of this album. It also shows how four hands can multiply exponentially as Villafranca’s and Stable’s dazzle as they fly and move quietly and surreptitiously across keys and skins in a flurry of activity.
This is, quite simply, craftsmanship at its finest and it goes beyond mere technique, as the word “craftsmanship” may suggest. It is a matter of voices entwined like pirouetting DNA—gourds with hundreds of seeds; a chekere with a myriad seeds and shells; the glimmering swish of cymbals that accompany a dazzling arpeggio on the piano on “Yusa’s” and “Agua Marina”… These are just two examples of how magnetically attracted Villafranca and Stable are. The other outstanding aspect of the music is how inspired the compositions are. Although composed by two completely different minds the mindset appears to be almost inspirationally alike so that different and varied compositional pieces seem to have come from a person with two brains yet one personality. “1529” and “Alla”; “Saghezi” and “Vertiente” are compositions that are dramatically different on the face of it. The first and third are rhythmically complex and revel in that character; the second and fourth rely on melodic extravagance and dramatic harmonic polyphony than anything else. And yet they seem to be of one body; one soul.
Most beautiful and spectacular of all is the geometry of the compositions and the manner in which they unfold—a succession of lines, dance steps, airy curves, parabolas, sharp angles and wide elevations. Nowhere is this more superbly evident than on “1529”, a song of extreme subtle expression and dynamics and nuanced beauty for both pianist and percussionist. However, it is the gentle rousing emotion of “Cuba Linda” that stirs heart and soul. Both Villafranca, who composed the guaguancó and Stable, who anchors its stirring tide must have known this so that it must have been easy to end (sadly) this brilliant album on that note. The suspended animation might suggest something more is on the horizon in terms of a future collaboration and it is impossible to suggest how eagerly this is awaited.
Track Listing: 1. 1529; 2. Saghezi; 3. Alla; 4. Arara; 5. En la Colonia; 6. Vertiente; 7. A las Millas; 8. Yusa’s; 9. Agua Marina; 10. Cuba Linda.
Personnel: Elio Villafranca: piano, guataca, vocals; Arturo Stable: djembe, udu, dumbek, congas, bata, cajon, hand percussion, vocals; Igor Arias: lead vocals (10).