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Afro Bop Alliance: Una Más

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Afro Bop Alliance - Una Más

There is a sensuous, almost bordering on lustful, quality to the music on Una Más by the big band, Afro Bop Alliance. Not that it is a bad thing at all; quite the contrary, the viscosity of the music is a result of the molten mix of bronzed horns and beautifully clouded woodwinds with elementally raw drums and percussion. The result is a saffron-coloured paella of swirling contra-danzas and soaring son-montuno and on event, a wistful bolero; even a stately maracatú (some Afro-Brazilian thrown into the leading melody of “El Niño”) that is kept hot with bubbling energy by the drummer and percussion-colourist, and leader, Joe McCarthy as well as the celebrated timbalero, Roberto Quintero. Oddly enough it takes the also-sensuous, but infinitely softer approach to the vibes and the marimba by Dave Samuels that keeps the music from getting too heated and out of control.

As the percussionists play off each other’s personalities—especially when batá drums come into play—the wall of saxophones (especially the gravity-driven baritones) playing in ululating abundance together with the droning, smoking trombones lights the music aflame. This roaring fire is fed by the trumpets and alternately doused by the sprinkling cool of the gilt-edged vibes and/or the marimba as it introduces the piano and sometimes the guitar and rolling bass. The music then takes on a rich narrative, the story-telling of which continues from song to song. Hence the apparent chapter and verse of the titles following from “The Gathering,” “The Floating World,” the utterly beautiful chart, “The Avid Listener” and “Cherry Blossom”. But this is a story that criss-crosses Latin America, following a line from Africa through Portugal and Spain, Brazil and Cuba, Argentina and so on… Moreover—and here lies the exquisite surprise—the musical griots also paint vivid pictures with a brilliant manipulation of tonal palettes of the instruments used in a most painterly fashion.

Percussionists have a natural tendency to play with pulses and tempos and this creates the illusion of timelessness, brought about no doubt by the fibrillating of the skin of the drum as well as by the continuous hiss of the cymbal after it has been struck with soul. Also the shape-shifting edifice of the percussion; the surprising and sometimes abrupt changes in rhythm itself bring a gasping quality to the music. From Benny Golson’s montunofied “Along Came Betty” right down to the wire of “Viva Cepeda” these changes in rhythm that break and pierce through the swelling ocean of other brass and woodwinds make this music utterly unforgettable. The towering moments come in the gasping changes on “El Otoño”. Which brings everything, de capo, back to percussion and lustfulness; when it comes to music this is not, after all, so much of a bad thing, but altogether desirable.

Track Listing – 1. Golpe de Cumaco (Impression 10); 2. El Niño; 3. The Gathering; 4. The Floating World; 5. The Avid Listener; 6. Cherry Blossom; 7. Along Came Betty; 8. El Otoño; 9. Viva Cepeda.

Personnel – Steve Williams: lead alto, and soprano saxophones; Andy Axelrad: alto saxophone; Luis Hernández: tenor; Vince Norman: tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones; Daryl Brenzel: baritone saxophone; Chris Walker: lead trumpet; Alex Norris: trumpet; Greg Reese: trumpet; Tim Stanley: trumpet; Ben Patterson: trombone; Joe Jackson: trombone; Rhoades Whitehill: trombone; Jeff Cortazzo: trombone; Harry Appelman: piano; Tim Murphy: piano (4); Jim Roberts: guitars; Mike Pope: basses; Joe McCarthy: drums, bells, timbale; Roberto Quintero: congas, percussion; Dave Samuels: vibraphone and marimba.

Released – 2011
Label – OA2 Records
Runtime – 58:00

Afro Bop Alliance - Angel Eyes

Suggested reading:
Afro Bop Alliance : Angel Eyes

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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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

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.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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.

Deo gratis…

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 [9]

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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