Continuing from where he left off in his journey through the ritual magic of the Afro-Cuban musical experience some two years ago Adriano Clemente has surfaced from his deep dive with the music of Cuban Fires. The music is brought to fruition by what sounds like a substantially-enhanced Akashmani Ensemble that is considerably inspired by Mr Clemente’s music. The ensemble certainly lives up to its name – which is created ostensibly from a Sanskrit amalgam that means “celestial” (Akash) “jewel” (mani) – and it also fulfills its prime directive, which is to pierce the ornate fabric of Afro-Cuban music in a meaningful, spiritual way.
Invoking the deity Obatalà right out of the gates the group burns its way through “Cuban Fires” having been led into the main body of the music by a Yoruba chant to “the father of all humanity”. Clearly His blessings are bestowed upon Mr Clemente and the Akashmani Ensemble. The former, a composer certainly seems to have been granted honorary Cuban status as this music suggests. The repertoire traverses through the various forms of highly combustible Afro-Cuban music. A visceral energy exudes throughout and much of this has to do with the mastery of percussionists led by Degnis Bofill on batá drums and other percussion, the conguero Eduardo Silveira and Deivys Rubalcaba who together with bassist Roberto “El Chino” Vásquez have succeeded in creating a mighty wall of rhythm.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album ·Adriano Clemente: Cuban Fires
But far from being impenetrable this mighty edifice is bent and shaped into all things wonderfully harmonic by the horn ensemble which performs with great fire from “Cuban Fires” to “Mambo House”, but can also be heard to be extraordinarily tender on the beautiful bolero “Con Alma”, a requiem for the composer’s friend Enrico Dell’Angelo. The virtuoso pianism of Alejandro Falcón is the magical glue that holds all of the music together and may be listened to with great admiration as Falcón weaves his enchanting web of music with varying moods and emotion through the effervescent “Mango Cha” and “Nueva Alegría” and the mesmerising “Olvidado”.
The surprises, when they come, are effective and discreet: raw African rhythms collide with Thommy Lowry’s trumpet soli which brings a rippling jazzy groove that gently builds in heat and momentum often spurred on by the horns of the trombonist Eduardo Sandoval, as well as Michel Herrera and Emir Santa Cruz who alternate on various saxophones, the latter alternating on clarinet as well. The ensemble parlays like old friends creating a mellifluous mélange throughout this repertoire launching into the music with a broodingly tumbling percussive groove from beginning to end. Whether blowing hot or spacey and cool, this ensemble is transformative and utterly memorable.
All in all Cuban Fires has definitely been worth the wait from Mr Clemente’s earlier Afro-Cuban sojourn which he (then) entitled Havana Blue. Both recordings are touching and toe-tapping in equal measure.
Track list – 1: Cuban Fires; 2: Con Alma (For Enrico); 3: Mango Cha; 4: Nueva Alegria; 5: Mambo House; 6: G Son; 7: Olvidado; 8: Cuban Fires (Reprise)
Personnel – Adriano Clemente: compositions and arrangements; Akashmani Ensemble – Thommy Lowry: trumpet and flugelhorn; Eduardo Sandoval: trombone; Michel Herrera: alto and baritone saxophones, and tenor saxophone (8); Emir Santa Cruz: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Alejandro Falcòn: piano; Roberto “El Chino” Vàsquez: bass; Eduardo Silveira: congas, bongò, güiro and cowbell; Deivys Rubalcaba: timbales, güiro, cowbell and maracas; Degnis Bofill: batà drums and percussion
Released – 2018
Label – Fonosfere (FNF114)
Runtime – 58:05
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.
By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.
The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.
Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.
From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.
Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.
It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.
Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz
Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring – Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums 
Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25
YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)
YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues
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