If you’re not a Cuban musician living in Toronto chances are you might not have heard a great deal about Amhed Mitchel. But that would be a real pity because you ought to. At any rate, if you missed him when he released The Breath of Life (2013), it is time to catch up and the drummer is offering discerning listeners another chance with Naciente. This is as good an opportunity to get the whole nine yards on one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets: a fully-formed musician who just happens to play a drum set as well as anyone you are likely to hear. Somewhat surprisingly, Mr Mitchel chooses to call his second recording in four years Naciente. It seems odd only because the drummer is far from the suggestion that he has ‘just born’.
Each of the ten pieces on Naciente is a work of sublime craftsmanship. Melodic lines are complex; linear to begin with, but which soon twist and turn, deepening their beckoning mystery. The surprises, when they come, spring dramatically and effectively, but discreetly: a rippling jazz groove launches into a broodingly percussive tumbling segue, before cutting loose into a funky close (“Las Fiestas de Ponce”), a gamelan-like riff assigned to the saxophone is played as pizzicato harmonics inviting a rapid response from the piano (“Los Pasos de Mery”), a delicate curlicue of a bass line underpins what sounds like a descarga (“Nuevo”), and a close-knit ensemble passage develops out of a single phrase (“Self Portrait”). Through it all this magisterial control is never lost even when things get loose.
Amid the hyperactive star turns, from fusion to free the drummer stops the show with many gorgeously crafted, melodic phrases: a spontaneous meditation here and a fiery rumble there – both, at once simple and lyrical, abstract and profound. His magnificent sense of time and tonal palette provides purity of sound to every song. This inspirational leadership is evident at every turn, with a constellation of stars – from Roberto Riverón and Kieran Overs on bass, José Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’ on percussion, Rafael Zaldivar on piano, Luis Deniz on alto saxophone and the drummer’s illustrious late father on drums (“Self Portrait”) everyone seems to follow the drummer wherever he would lead. Often this is down an intricate rhythmic path where the drummer is constantly ringing in the changes in mood, structure and tempo, making for a constantly interesting programme.
The considerable degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition and improvisation, of exploration, individuality and tradition is impressively maintained throughout. The recorded sound – with Toronto’s eminent engineer John Bailey on the boards – balances detail and warmth. Amhed Mitchel has hit it out of the park again.
Track list – 1: Las Fiestas de Ponce; 2: New Morning; 3: Newborn; 4: Toscana; 5: Los Pasos de Mery; 6: Naciente; 7: Nuevo; 8: MMM!!!; 9: Recuerdos; 10: Self Portrait
Personnel: Amhed Mitchel: drums, keyboards (3) and piano (10); Jorge Mitchel: drums (10); Rafael Zaldivar: piano (1 -3, 5 – 8); Adrean Farrugia: piano (9); Stan Fomin: keyboard (4, 10); Dave Restivo: piano and Fender Rhodes (4); Roberto Riverón: contrabass and electric bass (1, 2, 5 – 7, 10); Kieran Overs: contrabass (4, 9); Juan Pablo Dominguez: electric bass (3, 8); Jeff King: soprano saxophone (3, 9); Luis Deniz: alto saxophone (1, 2, 4 – 10); Ted Quinlan: guitar (4); Eliel Lazo: congas (2); Jorge Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’: congas (1, 8, 10)
Released – 2017
Label – Independent
Runtime – 1:12:22
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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