The rise of smaller record labels and independent music producers has made a significant contribution to the number of musicians from other parts of the world getting not just radioplay, but – in the case of important new artists – the recognition they deserve. Some of the fine musicians to come out of Peru recently have been Gabriel Alegria, Yuri Juarez, Hugo Alcázar and Corina Bartra. Much spotlight has been thrown – and will continue to be thrown – on the latter because she is a vocalist with a powerful and forthright personality. Moreover, vocalists – especially those from Latin America – are also looked upon differently because they verbalize what many cannot but hope to.
On Afro Peruvian Jazz Celebration (Blue Spiral Music) vocalist Corina Bartra achieves this and a lot more. Batra has a bold voice and commanding presence. She sings without sentimentality and often ends lines with a rising intensity and a slight quiver. This is characteristic of storytellers – griots – who often deliberately eschew concert hall finesse in favor of the high emotion of narrative and the brutal honestry of truth. Today Bartra enjoys the rare privileges of inhabiting the stellar artistic regions of Peru occupied by singers such as Eva Ayllon and Pilar de la Hoz.
Corina Bartra leads her Azu Project – a floating outfit of musicians from Peru and the United States – courageously into territory that is not normally ventured out onto – especially by vocalists. The repertoire Bartra attempts here is a combination of Afro-Peruvian classics such as “Chacombo,” “Camaron,” “Afro-Peruvian Folk Song,” the lando, “No Valentin” and a baiao/festejo, “Yambambo” – and a generous helping of music from the American Standards songbook. In addition, it is this clever production decision that has enhanced the attraction of the singer and her record enormously.
Corina Bartra sings with unabashed honesty and is unafraid to make her voice do things the English language listening world is unused to hearing. For instance, Bartra cares nothing about pitch. Most South American vocalists do not either. The music of most of those countries is swathed in a culture that puts a premium on emotional delivery. How else would a singer get into character? In bringing this ethos to the standards that Bartra sings, she imbues them with something special – a different kind of quality. That unique sensuality brightens the emotion enormously. This is helped by the fact that Bartra’s vocal range is lower than most and she can really dip into an almost tenor register.
Consequently, musical instruments blend better and the musicians are provoked into taking greater risks with their pianos, saxophones and basses, and percussion instruments. Yet the renditions of American standards may take some getting used to. “Stella by Starlight” is a growing phenomenon. Nevertheless, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is so stunning that it takes the breath away. Bartra has also written two originals in English: “You Took Me By Surprise” and “I Don’t Regret A Moment.” These two tracks provide the best look at the personality of this wonderful singer who is going to get busier and make more waves in the big venues of music very soon.
Tracks: La Flor de la Canela; Chacombo; You Took Me By Surprise; Stella By Starlight; Toro Mata; Camaron; No Valentin; A Saca Camote Con El Pie; You Don’t Know What Love Is; Afro-Peruvian Folk Song; Puente De Los Suspiros; Yambambo; I Won’t Regret A Moment.
Personnel: Corina Bartra: vocals; Cliff Korman: piano; Vince Cherico: drums; Xavier Perez: saxophones; Perico Diaz: cajon; Motto Fukushima: bass; Andres Prado: guitar (1, 2, 5, 6); Alonso Acosta: piano (1, 2, 5, 6); Oscar Torres: drums (1, 2, 5, 6); Abel Garcia: saxophone (1, 2, 5, 6); Eduardo Freire: bass (1, 2, 5, 6); Dante Oliveros: cajon (1, 2, 5, 6); Perico Diaz: cajon (1, 2, 5, 6); Tino Derado: piano (7); Peter Brainin: saxophone (7); Oscar Stagnaro: bass (7); Fred Berryhill: percussion (7); Perico: percussion (7); Vince Cherico: drums (7); Jay Rodriguez: saxophone (8, 10, 12); David Hertzberg: bass (8, 10, 12).
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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