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Chris Washburne: Rags and Roots

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Chris Washburne - Rags and Roots

Chris Washburne - Rags and Roots

Editor’s Pick · Featured Album ·

The Columbia University Professor, author and musician, trombonist Chris Washburne enjoys the company of some of the finest young musicians in the world on Rags and Roots, a wonderful album – probably the trombonist’s finest so far. It might sound like a tall claim, and not an easy one, to make. Chris Washburne is a brilliant trombonist and a music activist who has a long and varied résumé of performances under his belt. This one is his twelfth and every one of them has been stellar. However the trombonist appears to be getting better the older he gets.

For one thing it feels as if Chris Washburne is playing less on Rags and Roots, focussing more on honing his musicianship by carefully choosing the repertoire on his records and then bringing his dynamic contrasts and varied articulation to each of the songs. That may not be anything new for the trombonist – playing his heart out, I mean – but the manner of his craftsmanship on Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and more so on the WC Handy/Moisés Simons medley “St. Louis Blues/The Peanut Vendor”. His employment of countermelodies on the latter is reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ classic “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” from Mingus Revisited (Mercury, 1960), in which The Great One used another Ellington melody “I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart” running counter to “Do Nothin’…”

It might not seem to be a big deal, but it was one for Mingus and a bold one for Washburne as well. Melding Handy’s and Simons’ tunes in one seamless melody and rhythm. Call it “clever” or even “too intellectual” and you would be missing the whole point of Washburne’s unique “echo-location” – in which he “finds” the African root of both in each other’s songs, making Jazz and Caribbean branches of that same root. More than anything else it is Washburne’s digging this out that makes his “cleverness” real. The smarts are applied across the board on Rags and Roots – in Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “Bamboula”, Ernesto Nazareth’s “Odeon”, in “Jens Bodewalt Lampe’s “Creole Belles” and in Abel Meeropol’s darkly beautiful “Strange Fruit” of course.

None of this would have been the same had Chris Washburne played this music without this group of musicians. Each member of the group is an inspired choice – from Alphonso Horne on trumpet and Evan Christopher on clarinet to André Mehmari on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass and Vince Cherico on drums. The list of guests may not be as long, but it certainly is illustrious. Gabriella Anders and Vuyo Sotashe are superb. But if the list had stopped at Sarah Elizabeth Charles that surely would have been enough for you only have to listen to “Strange Fruit” to find that there is power in her wraith-like expressing of the deeply melancholic lyrics that emerge like ethereal gossamer lines on the poplars. And Charles sings on four other songs as well. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Track List – 1: Maple Leaf Rag; 2: St. Louis Blues/The Peanut Vendor; 3: Bamboula; 4: Here’s One; 5: Solace (A Mexican Serenade); 6: Odeon; 7: Picture Of Her Face; 8: Mildly Entertained; 9: Ala Cote Gen Fanm; 10: Lisette; 11: Creole Belles; 12: Strange Fruit.

Personnel – Chris Washburne: trombone; Alphonso Horne: trumpet; Evan Christopher: clarinet; André Mehmari: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Vince Cherico: drums; Sarah Elizabeth Charles: vocals (1, 2, 7, 9, 12); Vuyo Sotashe: vocals (4, 11); Gabriela Anders: vocals (2).

Record Label: Zoho Music
Year Released: 2017
Running time: 57:47


Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

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.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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.

Deo gratis…

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 [9]

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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