The mighty task of transposing the great Federico García Lorca from the landscape of poetry to the soundscape of music—despite the inherent musicality of his work—is a daunting one. Yet the New York bassist Alexis Cuadrado has picked one of his most widely-known volume of poetry, Poeta en Nueva York.
Rendering poems from a work in which Mr. García Lorca’s magical poetry—expressed with deeply embedded duende in A Lorca Soundscape is almost like attempting to perform Franz Liszt’s concert etudes—particularly the tortured sighs of “Un Sospiro”. And yes, Alexis Cuadrado comes off with flying colours casting the lead voice of the poet in the bass, with Claudia Acuña’s voice sharing in the spoils. So, no, this may not be quite the equivalent effect of Leslie Howard performing Franz Liszt, but the very idea of assigning the voice of Federico García Lorca Poeta en Nueva York to the double bass, with Ms. Acuña being a kind of doppelgänger, with her husky contralto is almost just as good as it deepens and even extends the colour palette of A Lorca Soundscape manifold. It is like having Poeta en Nueva York and La Casa de Bernarda Alba all rolled into one.
Mr. Cuadrado is one of those bassists who eschew the spectacle preferring instead the deep vibrations that come with having a resonating instrument such as the bass violin or contrabass pressed hard against the body so its beat echoes in the depths of each heartbeat of the human body itself. His soli are thus more moving and inhabit the deepest recesses within the woody interior of this magnificent instrument. Notes are imbued with the gravitas and erudition born of virtuosity quite beyond Mr. Cuadrado’s years. The rumble of the bass is magical and animated—the exquisite opening bars of “Asesinato (Dos voces de madrugada en Riverside Drive)” is a fine example—and at times like these the instrument sounds as vocal as it snaps and pops in counterpoint to the exquisite wailing voice of Ms. Acuña. So alive and animated is the bass that it is orchestral and although played pizzicato almost throughout the entire programme, but in playing repetitive figures and dallying over notes until their eventual despairing echo into oblivion is a fine device that covers the missing con arco passages. There are other magnificent aspects of this music and these come in the form of Ms. Acuña vocalising the profoundly beautiful poetry of the originals—some of which have been edited and/or interpreted to allow the music to live lyrically.
Miguel Zenón’s playing is masterful and as beautiful as anything he has put on record. The technical wizardry is reminiscent of his Puerto Rican trilogy that ended with his great record Alma Adentro—The Puerto Rican Songbook and of the epic nature of his storytelling on Rayuela. The enormous good fortune of his presence on this record is best felt on “Danza de la muerte”. Here too is the brilliance of pianist Dan Tepfer heard. The pianist varies the breathless nature of his playing by giving his soli room to breathe in a manner that is rare. Many pianists would not resist displays of dizzying virtuosity, but Mr. Tepfer is much too clever and inventive to allow his technical abilities to get the better of his playing. All of these lead voices—including the principal one of Alexis Cuadrado—display their singular individuality on “Danza de la muerte” and on a very special and elementally melancholic version of the poem, “La aurora,” the lyric of which is sung verbatim from the poem. And it is at times like these that the true memorable nature of the project is felt. It is also at times like these that the depth and majesty of Federico García Lorca’s poetry and the utter beauty of Alexis Cuadrado’s musical interpretations of the poems come together in one mystical puff of smoke.
Track Listing: Vuelta de paseo; Norma y paraíso – El rey de Harlem; Asesinato (Dos voces de madrugada en Riverside Drive); Danza de la muerte; La aurora; New York (Oficina y denuncia); Vals en las ramas.
Personnel: Alexis Cuadrado: bass, bombo legüero (1, 4), cajón, palmas, background vocals (4); Claudia Acuña: voice; Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; Dan Tepfer: piano; Mark Ferber: drums, Gilmar Gomes: congas (3), djembe, bells, rebolo, and pandeiro (4).
Alexis Cuadrado on the web: alexiscuadrado.com
Label: Sunnyside Records | Release date: October 2013
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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