Elio Villafranca: Epic Journey in search of Cinque
Elio Villafranca: Cinque The record package itself for Cinque is modest, but oddly impressive; its black cover has the title and Mr Villafranca’s name hand lettered across the dancing African art, a detail from Firma de 7 Batalla: Firma to overcome challenges and bring positive spiritual changes. The whole aspect presents a fitting portent of the epic musical voyage to come. The music on both discs displays Mr Villafranca’s innate ability to convey – with memorable eloquence – dramatic narratives, a skill hones through previous compositions over several records made since he came to America from his native Cuba.
Seldom does a mixed vocal and large ensemble programme such as this hang together so perfectly, each successive piece across the five movements tightening the ratchet of intensity towards a final, dramatic, and pertinently contemporary anguish and joy. It helps that all of the performers – including illustrious ones such as Wynton Marsalis, Leyla McCalla, Steve Turre, among others – are at the top of their communicative powers. The musicians make light work of Mr Villafranca’s technical challenges, producing a tight and vivid unity of purpose, aided by a close recorded balance. Mr Villafranca is heard in appropriate measure providing just enough pianistic support to the group of reeds, winds and percussion section to enable each one of the musicians to bring the full emotional range of this complex work in solo and ensemble passages, which the velvet-voiced Terrance McKnight tells the story in all its epic grandeur, his intense narration bringing key episodes of the Cinque epic to life.
The opening movements is scintillating and tautly driven by African percussion elements, by turns gritty, rapturously lyrical, sparkling and luscious with a ruminative development section that grows naturally into the succeeding movements. Mr. Villafranca’s music incorporates historical and theatrically-performed percussion to accompany all of the music and all of this is superbly executed by the enhanced rhythm section that also includes Lewis Nash, Arturo Stable and Jonathan Troncoso. Mr Villafranca’s piano is the glue that binds the various sections and he is magnificent throughout. His playing is shaped by long inventions that are always en pointe. His ornamentation of key passages could fill a review on its own. His ornamentation is generous yet never overbearing. His pacing is unerring in the face of very complex polyrhythms and the sense of narrative that he brings to this epic work is utterly persuasive as he breathes life into the work, forcing us to inhale and exhale with him. A long and happy and illustrious future is predicted for this work that can only be described as monumental.
Track list – Disc One Movement I – 1: El Rey Congo “the King of the Congo”; 2: Narration 1; 3: Cinque + Narration 2 (Part I); 4: The Capture (Part II); 5: Canto Gangá de Despedida; 6: Narration 3; 7: Troubled Waters (Part III); Movement II – 8: Rezo Congo; 9: Maluagda (Part I); 10: La Burla De Los Congos (Part II); 11: Tambor Yuka/Saludo Gangá; 12: Madre Agua (Part III); Movement III – 13: Indigo + Narration 4 (Part I); 14: New Sky (Part II); 15: Narration 5; 16: The First Colony (Part II); 17: Kongo. Disc Two Movement IV – 1: The Night at Bwa Kay Man (Part I); 2: Palo De Muerto -Llore; 3: Kafou Ceremony; 4: Narration 6; 5: The Night of Fire (Part II); 6: Medley of Congo Songs. 7: Mesy Bondye. Movement V – 8: Paseo (Part I); 9: Conga y Comparsa (Part II); 10: Live Conga; 11: Canto Gangá a Yegbé de Despedida; 12: Congo Story; 13: Canto Congo a Capella – Maluagda; 14: Palo de Muerto
Personnel – Terrance McKnight: narrator; Reeds: Vincent Herring: alto and soprano saxophones, and flute; Greg Tardy: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Todd Marcus: bass clarinet; Brass: Freddie Hendrix: trumpet; Steve Turre: trombone, bass trombone and shells; Rhythm Section: Elio Villafranca: piano, maracas, guataca, campana and coros; Ricky Rodriguez: contrabass; Lewis Nash: drum set; Percussion: Arturo Stable: batá drums, congas, palo drum or atabales, agogo bells, bombo and coros; Miguel Valdes: batá drums, congas, bombo and coros; Jonathan Troncoso: palo drum or atabales, valsié drum and barril drum; Nelson Mateo Gonzales: barril drum, palo drum or atabales; Guests: Wynton Marsalis: trumpet solos on “La Burla de Los Congos” and “The Night at Bwa Kay Man”; Leyla McCalla: vocals on “Mési Bondye”; Don Vappie: banjo on “Mési Bondye”; Alexander Lasalle: Rezo Congo and vocals on “Maluagda”, “The Capture” and “La Burla de Los Congos”; Alexander Waterman: cello on “Troubled Waters” and “Indigo”; Roberta Brenza: coros on “Conga y Comparsa”
Released – 2018
Label – artistShare (AS0161)
Runtime – Disc One 52:37 Disc Two 41:38
Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Scott Thompson for his generosity and for helping make this happen during a very busy time for Mr Villafranca.