The culture of the Caribbean – entrenched, as it is in the indigenous populations of the various islands – is also dominated by two other major cultures: Spanish and, more so, African, which is more specifically a West African one as the vast majority of Africans were imported into the Caribbean (and into the Southern part of the Americas) from slave-trading posts in Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon and Congo. So naturally, Caribbean music is heavily influenced by the roots of its African peoples. But nowhere is the African influence in music more pronounced than in Cuba, where continues to be melded in with the magnificent yearning associated with the romance of Spanish music.
For all Cubans – especially the black Afri-Cuban – the immediate topicality of Cuban music, its inseparability from daily life, goes right back to its African roots, to the culture of survival, resistance and ritual in the sugar plantations. Uniquely even after years of indoctrination, and being schooled in an European-style conservatoire, every black Cuban musician remains rooted in (or invariably returns to) his African roots at some point in his career – some, like Aruán Ortíz – more than others, it might seem. And happily so for he has given the world of music one marvellous recording after another for decades, honouring his African roots (in the Cuban context) more and more profoundly as he has grown into his art. On his 2017 solo album CubANism Mr Ortíz revisited his roots in a most profound manner. With Inside Rhythmic Falls his search for music’s meaning continues.
Mr Ortiz comes from Oriente, a province that is home to the musical form of Changüí, which arose in the sugarcane refineries and in the rural communities populated by erstwhile slaves. Changüí combines the structure and elements of Spain’s canción (played with a Spanish guitar) with African rhythms and percussion instruments of Bantú origin. Changüí is descended from nengón and kiribá and is typically played by an ensemble comprised of marímbula, bongos, trés, güiro and one or more singers. Uniquely, changüi does not use the Cuban key rhythmic pattern of clave, however, the trés typically plays offbeat guajeos (or ostinatos), while the güiro plays on the beat. Mr Ortíz’s music on Inside Rhythmic Falls returns to the roots of this music, but as he probes deep into its heart he finds a sound that is unique and seemingly unheard before; a sound more authentic than it has been before. This has everything to do with his method of playing.
Like all of the masterful Cuban pianists – both past and contemporary – Mr Ortíz is technically supreme. Yet what sets his pianism – indeed his artistry – apart is the fact that he brings to it a kind of archeological approach. There is a sense of wonder in his playing and this is combined with a tremendous field of energy that seems to flow from the cathedral of his brain through to his fingers. By the time synapses reach past his hands, each appendage is bristling with nervous energy that transforms the notes and phrases into coded messages to the universe around him. But there is more: from the chatter of black and white keys there are moments of deep mysticism; supplications, if you like, to the Orishas as well as pure pagan yelps and thunderous shouts of joy as if in celebration of being one with a sacred universe. Also, like a wizened archeologist, Mr Ortiz also wields his fingers like tools that brush away the centuries separating age-old cultures to reveal them in newly discovered melodic, harmonic and rhythmic contexts.
You will find the joy of discovering the morphing world of changüí – and much more – on Inside Rhythmic Falls. Mr Ortiz is a master of de-constructing everything and revealing his process as he does so. On this album he draws in the masterful virtuosity of two percussion colourists: Andrew Cyrille, a legendary drummer who powered Cecil Taylor’s ensembles for a decade or so, and Mauricio Herrera, another Afro-Cuban percussion colourist who has a way of making each drum not only sing, but dance. The compositions are all original creations from Mr Ortíz’s pen. They are raw and plaintive like the melodic chant of “Lucero Mundo” featuring a mesmerising recitative by Marlène Ramírez-Cancio and Emeline Michel; they are radiant and visceral as in the powerfully unfolding changüí, “Golden Voice” and they can also strike out into the rhythmic stratosphere as the music of his suite “Inside Rhythmic Falls”. Everywhere you get a sense of a titanic tug-of-war between music and musician(s) as if propelled by a hidden power that continues to propels Afri-centric music far beyond the shores of the Motherland.
Track list – 1: Lucero Mundo; 2: Conversation with the Oaks; 3: Marímbula’s Mood; 4: Golden Voice (Changüí); 5: De Cantos y Ñáñigos; 6: Inside Rhythmic Falls. Part I (Sacred Codes); 7: Argelier’s Disciple; 8: Inside Rhythmic Falls. Part II (Echoes); 9: El Ashé de la palabra; 10: Para ti nengón
Personnel – Aruán Ortiz: piano and voice; Andrew Cyrille: drums and voice; Mauricio Herrera: percussion (marímbula, changüi, bongoes, catá and cowbells), and voice; Marlène Ramírez-Cancio: recitation (1); Emeline Michel: voice (1)
Released – 2020
Label – Intakt Records (CD 339)
Runtime – 51:30
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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