Leandro Saint-Hill Quartet: Cadencias

The title of this album, that is Cadencias, by Leandro Saint-Hill and his quartet seems to fit the music like a velvet glove. The “cadences” of the titles begin with harmonies and rhythms that are nuanced, meditative and perhaps even quietly sensual, but as the record progresses – by the time we get to “Hecho Pa Ti Pana” and “Hombre de Siete Vidas” the music become rhythmically more intense before returning to the nuanced seduction of “Risa Milagrosa,” which bounces between Son and Danzón. No matter which part of the rhythmic spectrum the music goes, it is still a superb indication that Leandro Saint-Hill belongs to that great line of Afro-Cuban musical creators who do as much to preserve the Afro-Cuban tradition as [he] they do to innovate within that tradition.

Mr Saint-Hill may reside abroad, but in his music he creates a very Afro-Cuban sense of place, evoking the thunderous clapping and chanting of Lucumí, Akan and Arará rhythmic worship and celebration that traverses throughout the urban landscapes of Cuba, whose relentless energy and colliding narratives do much to shape his rich and dynamic style. This repertoire sweeps across the tradition of Afro-Cuban music evocative of its visceral syncretic worship as well as the soulfulness that the entire African Diaspora shares including the call-and-response mechanisms that grew into the Blues – which morphed into Jazz. “Palenque Blues” is a vividly superb example of this kind of expression. Mr Saint-Hill is, of course, reverential when it comes to his Afro-Cuban-ness and his music is nothing if not respectful of such rhythms, with which he glides through works sculpted from Danzón, Habanera, Rumba, Son and Chachachá.

While Mr Saint-Hill waxes eloquent – melodically – improvising idiomatically as he plays his songs, his quartet – and the stellar guests including members of Mr Saint-Hill’s illustrious musical family, Omar Sosa, Raúl Pineda, Tony Martínez and others, all respond in kind. Each of the musicians – starting with the members of his quartet – has deeply interiorized his music. From the core quartet, pianist Matthäus Winnitzki is steeped in the composer and leader’s aesthetic and brings rich harmonies and rhythmic drive to his interpretations. The quartet is anchored in the wall of bass from Omar Rodríguez Calvo and drums and percussion of Nené Vásquez Ruíz. The apogee of this collision of melody, harmony and rhythm comes with the memorable duet between Mr Saint-Hill and percussionist Nené Vásquez Ruíz on “Hecho Pa Ti Pana”. The path to this climactic piece is laid down right out of the gates, with “Palenque Blues” and its sculpted inventions that unfold from one superb harmonic variation to the next.

The cunningly sensual music of “Papuchos Ice Cream” animates the archetypal charming character who suffers from a delusional weakness for vanilla bourbon almond ice cream. And it isn’t only the vocals titillate; the long and slender shape imparted to the harmonic and rhythmic twists and turns add much humour to the work as well. The heroic scale and exhilarating sweep of these works create a sense of a musical world in constant and majestic dynamism as the songs collide at the perfect place where tradition meets modernity, in the multi-layered musical narratives, performed with eloquence and exuberance.

Track list – 1: Palenque Blues; 2: Papuchos Ice Cream; 3: Otra Primavera [Springtime]; 4: Rumbea Chencho; 5: Otoño Lleno de Luz [Autumn Full of Light]; 6: Seres Elegantes; 7: Influencia de Eminentes; 8: Destellos del Reflejo; 9: Llegada Paralela; 10: Mantén la Marcha; 11: Hecho Pa Ti Pana; 12: Hombre de Siete Vidas; 13: Risa Milagrosa; 14: Yambú en Trance.

Personnel – Leandro Saint-Hill Montejo: alto and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet and vocals; Omar Rodríguez Calvo: contrabass; Matthäus Winnitzki: piano; Nené Vásquez Ruíz: percussion.

Guest Musicians – Omar Sosa: piano and percussion [3, 8]; Marcelo Saint-Hill Sweeney: violin: [13]; Sandor Saint-Hill Montejo: piano [13]; Jocelyn Saint-Hill: backing vocals [3, 8, 12]; Arturo Martínez: vocal and percussion [4, 14]; Fernando Spengler: vocals [2]; Silvano Mustelier Cabreja: bàtá [8]; Maurice Remedios Sarria: percussion [2, 4, 6, 10, 12, 14]; Yanara Figueroa: violin [13]; Annika Stolze: cello [13]; Dany Labana Martínez: trés and guitar [14]; Elio Rodríguez Luis: congas and background vocals [1]; Raúl Pineda: drums and percussion [7, 8, 13]; Jesús Díaz: percussion [7]; Antonio Lizana: alto saxophone and vocals [7]; Tony Martínez: piano [7]

Released – 2021
Label – German Wahnsinn
Runtime – 1:03:32

L to R: Omar Rodríguez Calvo, Matthäus Winnitzki, Leandro Saint-Hill, Nené Vásquez Ruíz. Photo: Tim Ohnsorge
Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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