Imagine the time when much music was written and performed on the harpsichord. That was before the piano first cam into being. Now imagine the literature that was originally intended for performance on the harpsichord and later became the bedrock of piano literature. Case in point: Johann Sebastian Bach’s legendary composition, “The Goldberg Variations.” It is hard to imagine that folks accepted piano performances as being the so-called “correct” thing to do. But today, can it be denied that perhaps the most definitive performances of this extraordinary work are in fact Glenn Gould’s brilliantly brazen The Goldberg Variations (Columbia Masterworks, 1955, and 1982) performed on the piano? This is despite superb interpretations of the Goldberg Variations by Keith Jarrett (ECM, 1989) on the harpsichord. What does all this have to do with Frank Villafañe’s Punto de Vista (Independent 2008)? Well nothing and everything.
This extraordinary sophomore record by the pianist – and we should now also say technician – Frank Villafañe has some of the most authentic Latin American music and where all instruments have been performed digitally by Villafañe, ostensibly using both actual as well as sampled sounds. The record consists of 7 original works, 2 Latin standards and one Frederic Chopin waltz (Opus 64, No. 2), adapted and reconstructed into “Brisas del Caribe” complete in a diminished key, with 4/4 Afro-Cuban swing in 2/3 clave. On paper this sounds rather like some gimmick. In actual fact the music is so authentic and beautiful that if the artist had never let on that many of the instruments were actually “sampled sound” it would have been entirely possible to experience this music believing that Villafañe had played all the original instruments in their original form.
As it stands the percussion, basses, string and horn parts in the music have probably been digitally created by Frank Villafañe. Why is it necessary to belabor the point? There are too many detractors of digital music and music generated in the digital realm has got a bad rap because it tended to mostly sound synthesized and did not have the authentic acoustic sound of the instruments being sampled. Not so on the music of Punto de Vista. So has this got to do with sophisticated technology? Perhaps this may be true, but the art of writing music and arranging it – especially that of classical and stellar standards – requires musical artistry that cannot be digitized. And this is exactly the case with Frank Villafañe, who is an accomplished, classically trained pianist who also has a soulful connection with Latin American music that arises out of Africa, Cuba, Brasil, Argentina and the Puerto Rico of his father’s side of the family (his mother is German). He also has an affinity for the swing of jazz.
In the music of his own “Esperando” and the great Puerto Rican composer, Don Pedro Flores’ “Obsesion” the experience of the traditional cha-cha-cha has been wonderfully captured. The sound of the guiro and the chekere add that swagger that makes the music all the more sensuous as Villafañe works his magic on the keyboard, recalling an emotional rapport with Peruchin as well. Chano Pozo’s classic son, “Porque to Sufres” now has a charanga/songo rhythm and Villafañe can only be admired for his inspired arrangements of both. “Maestro” has a jazzy swing and as a dedication to his teacher, Kenny Barron this is a sketch that conjures the jazz pianist’s other, Latin side. “Malentendido” brings together Brasilian samba and Puerto Rican bomba in a very heady musical concoction. “Despechado,” “Realizacion” and “Poignancy” have that je ne c’est quoi that also make them irresistible in themselves.
At the end of the day, what did Frank Villafañe achieve by creating all of this music digitally? Certainly not to prove a point although one does get proved in this fashion right here. And if, as the Goldberg Variations sound equally definitive whether played on harpsichord or piano, why question music as good as this, on Punto de Vista simply because it has been created digitally? Additionally whoever heard of anyone balking at the all-digital creations of Stevie Wonder, who is often known to do it all on a synthesizer? So, in the end, it’s high props for Frank Villafañe for Punto de Vista.
Tracks: Esperando (Waiting); Brisas del Caribe (Caribbean Breezes); Obsesion (Obsession); Porque Tu Sufres (Why Do You Suffer?); Despechado (Unwanted); Nunca Hay Tiempo (Never Enough Time); Maestro (My Teacher); Malentendido (Misunderstanding); Realizacion (Realization); Poignancy.
Personnel: Frank Villafañe: all instruments
Frank Villafañe on the web: www.frankmv.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama