Miguel de Armas Quartet: Continuous

Miguel de Armas has always come across as a musical voluptuary, born of a kind of rhythmically seductive pianism with which we first heard him in the legendary N.G. La Banda, an ensemble of which he was a charter member in the late-1980’s. The same visceral energy that propelled his work from the keyboards chair, bringing forth roars of approval from adoring crowds – particularly in Europe – is now the flavour of his later Canadian ensembles.

The breezy elegance of Mr De Armas’ music can once again be experienced on his 2021 disc Continuous. The repertoire on this album is immediately evocative of the pianist’s Afro-Cuban roots; his penchant for turning on a dime from a composed section to the proverbial descarga is what informs all this music, and his powerful montuno often adds enormous colour to the improvisatory passages that are launched when you least expect them. Adding the radiance of the Fender Rhodes on top of the layered legato passagework performed on the concert grand adds a shimmering, metallic tone texture to the music, brightening and otherwise pianissimo section to brilliant effect. “Angelique” is a fine example of this tintinnabulation effect.

Yasmina Proveyer adds her lustrous voice to the opening chart, “Continuous”, voicing wordless leaping vocalastics. The other big draws here are the presence of Toronto bassist Roberto Riverón [who also returns on “Angelique”]. Marquee names also include drummer and timbalero extraordinaire, Samuel Formell and conguero Joel Cuesta – both from the legendary Los Van Van, the former being the son of the group’s founding supremo, Juan Formell, of course. All of this brings a bristling energy to an already vivid piece. “Welcome Back from Varadero” is another propulsive song and showcases the spirited percussion colours of another brilliant conguero, Eliel Lazo.

Mr De Armas has many other stellar invited guests who are active members of the Toronto and Ottawa Afro-Cuban music scene, and they all bring a special kind of musicianship to this repertoire. Violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez is – predictably – superb on “Eva Luna”, as is cellist Gabriella Ruiz. I would be remiss if I did not mention the other [regular] members of Mr De Armas’ quartet. Each of the musicians – who help set up a thunderous rhythmic wall, no less – are completely attuned to the leader’s vision and artistry and you cannot praise each of them enough for their spirited performances. Bassist Marc Decho makes an extra-special contribution in the form of a heartfelt tribute to the legendary Bebo Valdés. The bassist’s “Song for Bebo” may be the apogee of this eloquent and artfully produced music.

Track list – 1: Continuous; 2: Couscous; 3: Angelique; 4: Welcome Back from Varadero; 5: Muñiñi; 6: Eva Luna; 7: Song for Bebo; 8: It Meant Something Else; 9: Gone too Soon.

Personnel – Miguel de Armas: piano, keyboards, and compositions [1 – 6, 8, 9]; Marc Decho: bass [2, 4 – 9] and composition [7]; Michel Medrano Brindis: drums; Diomer González: congas. Guests – Yasmina Proveyer: voice [1]; Roberto Riverón: bass [1, 3]; Elmer Ferrer: guitar [3]; Petr Cancura: tenor saxophone [5]; Elizabeth Rodriguez: violin [6]; Gabriella Ruiz: cello [6]; René Lavoie: flute [7]; Tyler Harris: alto saxophone [8]; José Alberto Alvarez Batista: güiro [1]; Yaima Cabalerro: güiro [7]. Special Guests – Samuel Formell: drums and timbales [1]; Joel Cuesta: congas [1]; Eliel Lazo: congas [4]

Released – 2021
Label – Three Pines Records [TRP-003-02]
Runtime – 46:52

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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