Canada sometimes feels a lot like the Afro-Cuban mainland. The country is bristling with talent from the fabled island of the Orishas among other not-so-savoury things. The spirited, inventive trumpeter Alexis Baró is one of those reasons why. Sugar Rush his 2016 album is a winning recording. Its gut-busting energy, built on Baró’s fiery trumpet and smouldering flugelhorn playing is exceptionally expressive and leaves no doubt about who’s leading the charge. Despite the aggressive character of his playing, his musical language is beautifully-toned and enormously appealing.
Here we have a young Cuban-born virtuoso stepping in the proverbial shoes of Arturo Sandoval. His work – especially on “La Guarida” comes from a similar tonal centre and he wields a similarly broad brush to paint darkening and intensifying moments with artful elegance. Characteristically, as with his performances on stage, Alexis Baró gets the measure of his songs’ identities without much undue ornamentation, digging deep with lively intelligence. His fulsome tone (cue “Caminando por la Vida” and “Laberinto”) matches the rich ensemble sound provided by saxophonist Jeff King, together with pianist Adrean Farrugia and keyboards player Jeremy Ledbetter.
Moreover with extraordinary performances by drummer Amhed Mitchel, the great Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco” painting wondrous percussion colours on his battery of instruments, as well as bassists Roberto Riverón and Yoser Rodríguez the tempos invariably feel right bowling along with just the right dash of brio. There’s pure poetry in each of their playing as well; what else could you expect from masterfully Afro-Cuban rhythmists schooled on the magical mystical music of the island? “Papiosco” in particular features a nimble technique, marvellously cut to fit the instrument he is playing which is always heard being played with beautiful tone and superb intonation.
Despite moments of visceral power Alexis Baró can also be – when playing flugelhorn – velvet (again) to Sandoval’s satin especially in solo passages and we are treated to some of this in “Inner Face”, a noteworthy, introverted piece. Alexis Baró reveals, here, that he can play at some distance from the virtuoso roller-coaster of, say, “Sígueme” and this to my mind is a sure sign of maturity and voice that can desist from exaggerated projection. Of course it is the nimble technique, sweet tone and elegant phrasing from Alexis Baró that enlivens this and other pieces as well.
Make no mistake, however, for one of the stars on this recording is the ensemble that backs up our hero. The transparency of the textures throughout is magnificent, inspired by Alexis Baró and his horns with sensitive exactitude, so that everything emerges lustrous, intense and vivid.
Track List – 1: Sígueme; 2: La Guarida; 3: Paseo por el Prado; 4: Please Believe Me; 5: Caminando por la Vida; 6: El Camino; 7: Sugar Rush; 8: Laberinto; 9: Inner Face.
Personnel – Alexis Baró: trumpet and flugelhorn; Jeff King: tenor saxophone; Adrean Farrugia: piano; Jeremy Ledbetter: keyboard; Yoser Rodríguez: bass (1, 4, 6 – 8); Roberto Riverón: bass (2, 3, 9); Amhed Mitchel: drums; Jorge Luis Torres “Papiosco”: percussion, timbal and bàtá drums.
Released – 2016
Label – G-Three Music
Runtime – 53:29
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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