Alexander Brown is a truly gifted trumpeter. The Cuban-born Canadian, of African Cuban heritage plays with breathtaking honesty. There is a great unquenchable fire in his “voice” and the manner in which he plays seems to fan that fire. He dallies over notes somewhat and this creates a kind of elongated effect, which when notes are strung into even unfinished phrases and longer lines creates a gentle swinging that creates that fanning effect. His intonation is forthright he makes notes expand as they emerge from the bell of his horn. These notes flare and heat up the air around them and this, in turn, creates a great deal of warmth in the room. It also affects the musicians he plays with; alto saxophonist, Luiz Deniz, for instance, becomes a different player when he is around Mr. Brown. The saxophonist breathes hot air into his alto saxophone and becomes akin to a mythical dragon. Through all of this Alexander Brown retains his fine sense of lyricism. His “hot” playing should not be misconstrued as burning up the melodies. On the contrary Mr. Brown imbues them with sensuousness that would lead the listener to believe that his music is made of women, who dance in the shadows of his songs.
Mr. Brown’s album The Process showcases all of those qualities about him. The title suggests that he is setting out to find a means to meld his African-Cuban roots into the metaphor of jazz. The manner of his playing is eminently suited to this imminent discovery. Consider the very first song of his recording, “The Process”. Here Mr. Brown’s fiery horn is enrobed by the counterpoint of Mr. Deniz’s saxophone. And while the trumpeter is developing his improvisations the saxophonist is quietly following the trumpet’s snaking path. Up and down the registers it darts and rushes impelled by Mr. Brown’s superb embouchure so that when the alto horn is asked to follow suit, Mr. Deniz is ready to undertake his own sojourn. Through all of this the drummer, another Cuban-born Canadian, Amhed Mitchel is digging around the wellspring of polyrhythms; feeling around for a truly extraordinary trajectory for the pulse of the song. Piano and bass, meanwhile, mix in the delightful idioms of jazz and here it would seem then, that Alexander Brown is well on the way to revealing his process.
The trumpeter now fired up by his wonderful opening salvo, drives on and shakes things up a tad, with the swaggering “Ciudad de Sombras” which rocks gently the foundations of rigid metres somewhat more with its ululating electric piano and a fine solo from Todd Pentney. Not to be missed is the subtle drumming behind the piano, by Mr. Mitchel. “Woody and Freddy” is a wonderful elegiac portrait of two trumpet masters who, it is also clear from Mr. Brown’s playing, are his grand masters and mentors. This is a heartfelt homage and is exquisitely executed by the trumpeter, who, in this case plays flugelhorn. Here too there are intimations of his rhythmic inventions that are beautifully executed by his rhythm section. Bassist Paco Luviano is particularly magnificent on this chart with a rollicking solo and some fine all-round bass playing. On “New Latin” Alexander Brown reveals a puckish side as he rips into the melody, using extremely fast and odd metre to make his point. Hilario Durán, who accompanies Mr. Brown, is highly adept at this, and he plays masterfully as does another maestro, the bassist Roberto Riverón. On “Guajira en Cha cha cha” the swaggering guajira, which turns into a cha cha cha is brightly played and with great sensitivity. This is also where Alexander Brown’s process of melding, or in this case, melting genres is showcased beautifully.
Now, while Alexander Brown makes a strong case for his musical process to change the way his music is heard, this record might be considered to be a startling beginning. Somehow, it sends a clear signal that the best is yet to come.
Track List: The Process; Ciudad de Sombras; Oscilaciones; Woody and Freddy; New Latin; Presencia; Guajira en Cha cha cha; Carnival do Brazil.
Personnel: Alexander Brown: trumpet and flugelhorn; Amhed Mitchel: drums; Paco Luviano: acoustic bass; Todd Pentney: piano; Luiz Deniz: alto saxophone; Hilario Durán: piano (5, 7); Roberto Riverón: electric bass (5); Rosendo “Chendy” León: percussion (5).
Released – 2013
Runtime – 53:48
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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