Both Alfredo Rodríguez and Pedrito Martinez are musicians known for great virtuosity on their respective instruments – Mr Rodríguez on the piano and Mr Martinez as a tumbadora and bàtá player from the Lucumí tradition, which also meant that he has considerable prowess in the realm of chants and vocals. For them to showcase this aspect of their musicianship is never a tall order.
But they have flipped the script on Duologue and created music that is remarkably and beautifully simple. Even more remarkably this is music that seems to transcend stylistic borders and although Mr Martinez’s percussion is an inescapable presence, the music has an almost unreal universal appeal.
The reason for this appears to be that this music features such outstanding melodic power that stylistic boundaries seem to melt away leaving just pure and beautiful songfulness. Only Mr Martinez’s voice that sometimes evokes his spiritual chants (as in “Yo Volveré”) reminds you that the musicians come from the Afro-Cuban tradition.
Almost everywhere else you would be hard-pressed to identify this music as having some Cuban form or the other – even when the musicians transform “Thriller”, (Rod Temperton’s song immortalised by Michael Jackson) into a breathtaking timba you can’t help but feel the universality of the music played.
Honouring the tradition is, of course, de rigueur and the musicians do so with a masterful version of the iconic punto guajiro music of Celina González and Reutilio Domínguez who artfully melded their music with the Afro-Cuban dance forms. The song “El Punto Cubano” is spectacularly re-imagined by Mr Rodríguez with Mr Martinez, who wails his way lyrically through the evocative and poetic imagery of the song.
Even when it comes time for Mr Martinez to showcase his skills on the bàtá, this is so skillfully done that while the drums retain their tone-textures throughout, the musicality with which they are played is supreme and overarching. Mr Rodríguez, for his part plays with nuanced emotion. It is rare that two artists with such strong musical personalities can combine to make music echoing with powerful lyricism and so completely bereft of ego.
Track list – 01: Africa; 02: Estamos Llegando; 03: Thriller; 04: Cosas del Amor; 05: Duologue; 06: El Punto Cubano; 07: Flor; 08: Jardín Soñador; 09: Super Mario Bros 3; 10: Mariposa; 11: Yo Volveré
Personnel – Alfredo Rodríguez: piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards and vocals; Pedrito Martinez: all percussion and vocals
Released – 2019
Label – Mack Avenue (MAC1145)
Runtime – 38:25
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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