Amanda Ruzza is one of a whole slew of talented musicians to come out of Brasil in recent years. She is a versatile bassist, a fine composer and a musician with an individual voice that appears to have absorbed a whole history of Brasilian music from the traditional Chôro to the Bossa Nova of Johnny Alf and Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim right down to the moderns such as MPB and its revolutionary spin offs from Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil to Os Mutantes.
The latter is important because the young group were shaped by tradition, but changes the playbook of almost every kind of idiom that came before them. Ms. Ruzza may not have heard their music but she seems to have arrived at the same rebellious path no doubt influenced by the music of modern masters of the bass such as Jaco Pastorious, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten. However, having absorbed their music, Ms. Ruzza has set out on a rather individualistic path cut from the shrubbery of the sertão as well as the concrete imagery of the Cariocas and the Paulistas mixed in with large doses of her own iconoclastic voice.
Ms. Ruzza’s playing usually appears percussive without the de rigueur slapping and hammering on. Somehow she gives the impression that she is playing bass and hammering a surdo all at once. Her soli are dappled with gymnastic parabola followed by leaps from plane to plane using the triggers of dramatic double stops to make those fabled leaps of a proverbial bass clef. Ms. Ruzza also plays beautiful inversions of her melodies almost as if she were creating whole new melodic lines within her bass lines; and she is known to dart up and down her fret-board like an excited impala and this she does on the two Chôro songs that she has composed and plays brilliantly: “Pagão” and “Pimenta no Chôro”. On the latter she builds her solo like an architect and ends up creating a beautiful edifice with a magical narrative, before handing off the melody to pianist Cliff Korman, who then swings away with the new-found energy of the Chôro. On other songs, such as “Gin” and “Larry and I” she is more workmanlike and sounds almost like the hammering of sheet-metal on strings. But she never gets serious and boring which are what many bassists who play with such a full-frontal style can end up being.
Much of the shape of the music has to do with carving out a fine production with seemingly disparate musicians. While David Binney and Cliff Korman as well as Mamiko Watanabe and Alex Nolan as well as Chris Stover are fine musicians their reading of this largely Brasilian fare is admirable. Technically superlative musicians are not necessarily fine sight readers. Mauricio Zottarelli has much to do with shaping the sound of this music. Mr. Zottarelli is not only a fine percussion colourist, but is also shaping up to be a producer with a fine ear for the landscape of sound. It seems from two recent productions, Mozik (2011) and this one, that Mr. Zottarelli is fast maturing into someone who can manage to create that wall of sound on which a whole record can affix itself onto. This is something that a musician is born into and can only improve with age. Amanda Ruzza is fortunate to have Mr. Zottarelli in the producer’s chair and the results are memorable enough for anyone willing to listen as well.
Track Listing: Larry and I; Pagão; Costanera; Monday, 3 am; Pimenta no Chôro; Gin; This Is What Happened.
Personnel: Amanda Ruzza: electric bass; Mauricio Zottarelli: drums and percussion; Alex Nolan: electric and acoustic guitars (1 – 4); Mamiko Watanabe: Fender Rhodes ( 1 – 4, 6, 7); Cliff Korman: piano (5); David Binney: alto saxophone (1, 4), soprano saxophone (3, 7); Lucas Pino: tenor saxophone (3, 5, 7), soprano saxophone (2, 6); Chris Stover: trombone (2, 6).
Amanda Ruzza on the web: amandaruzza.com
Label: Self Published | Release date: March 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama
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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