Review written by: Raul da Gama
For the young, expatriate Cuban musician to survive the many assaults on the character of his music from all ends of the musical spectrum must be a remarkable event. Surely it must take a rock-solid technique to preserve his chops and his tumbao. Not only is this evident from the first few notes that Yoel Diaz plays on the piano, but the maturity of his playing and his ability to follow through on a viscous near-miraculous stream of ideas with conviction shows him to be a young musician with immense courage and natural ability. His ebulliently titled album, Encuentros might have been mistaken for a real Cuban descarga were it not for the tilt towards more song-length charts that Diaz favors throughout the album.
The most striking aspect of Yoel Diaz’s pianism is his outstanding technique; his right hand works flawlessly in a series of filigrees waves, narrow and wide arcs, punctuated with swift jabs and thrusts as he recreates the shuffles and runs and arpeggios that burst out of his dynamic musical brain. While all this is happening, his left hand dances in pirouettes and stupendous leaps, and death-defying plummets as he digs out—almost by magic—the melodic bass line that rumbles and gyrates in a body-busting manner as it parries and ducks against the melodic line of the song itself. Magically, through it all, Diaz never runs out of ideas and more than this these ideas are strenuously thought out and magnificently exercised and expressed almost as if they were brought to fruition by meticulously crafting their sequences note by note.
It is no wonder then how the songs themselves are delightfully fashioned; each a breathtaking narrative from beginning to end. And in between Diaz and his ensemble imbue the storyline with a series of subplots and expeditionary events that are powerfully dramatic as well as singularly beautiful. Fortuitously he has surrounded himself with accomplished musicians—especially his flutist Nathalie Picard, of whom no praise is high enough. Her elegantly windswept harmonies work miracles for the melodies and her feminine, graceful vibrato with which she punctuates shows her to be a stylist of immense promise. Her sweeping lines on “Florentina” lift the song to new heights of elegance. The other horn players, trumpeter Eduardo Sanchéz and saxophonist Jim Norcross are no less worth of praise and will, perhaps play a larger role as soloists in future endeavors. And while the percussionists Roberto Osorio “Kiko” and Orlando Lavielle elevate the rhythm section with gentility and flair, it is tres player Lazaro Leyva and most especially bassist Alex Bellegarde, who steal the spotlight.
Although Leyva’s presence is all too short, Bellegarde conjures up the ghost of Cachao, with plump notes resplendent with rich tones and sonorous timbre throughout the session. This album would not be the same without these players—specifically the bassist. Vocals are hard to execute with flawless beauty and there are some moments that are suspicious, but overall the ladies recover with aplomb—Jessica Phillips Silver on the breathtaking “Maybe It’s Better”; Karen Young on the equally-stupendous “Somewhere in February”. Their diction and annunciation is wonderful throughout. Moreover, the more omnipresent Jesús Cantero tackles the difficult twists and turns of the myriad quarter and sixteenth notes in Diaz’s demanding compositions with brave resilience.
This is a composer’s and performer’s album and Yoel Diaz leads the charge with outstanding and unforgettable results. More—much more—is expected from this talented musician in the years to come.
Track Listing: 1. Florentina; 2. Maybe It’s Better; 3. Atardecer; 4. Somewhere in February; 5. Mujer Hermosa; 6. Otro Bolero; 7. Son para Piano #1; 8. Cuban Sunday; 9. A mi Barrio; 10. Tumbao Frasea’o; 11. Soneando con Nathalie; 12. BBQ con Son.
Personnel: Yoel Diaz: piano, musical direction, coro; Alex Bellegarde: double bass; Roberto Osorio “Kiko”: congas, percussion, timbales (11, 12); Nathalie Picard: flute, Orlando Lavielle: congas (11, 12); Eduardo Sanchéz: trumpet (12); Jim Norcross: baritone saxophone (12); Lazaro Leyva: tres (11, 12); Jesús Cantero: voice (1, 3, 5, 6, 12), coro (1, 11, 12); Karen Young: voice (4, 8); Jessica Phillips-Silver: voice (2, 6), Gérard Pierre: coro (1).
Related links: Yoel Diaz on the web: www.yoeldiaz.net