It should come as no surprise that the seduction of Afro Cuban music has turned up in the Balkan country of Croatia too. The delightful surprise, however, is how marvelously this music has been interiorised – and played by the group Cubismo. Admittedly, the pervasive influence of that vibrant music of the Caribbean island comes from band members who are Cuban/South American [Ecuadorean and Venezuelan], but it feels as if this [ubiquitous] musicality has percolated in the body and souls of the Croatian and Slovenian members of this ensemble as well.
The album Tumbao is also bolstered by gleaming brass and woodwind instrumentation provided by the [Croatian] Jazz Orkestar HRT, who have absorbed the complex Afro-Cuban harmonies and rhythms to the extent that when they dive into this repertoire with the members of Cubismo, the feeling is that you are basking in the fiery sunlight of a large Cuban ensemble broadcasting vociferously from somewhere on the streets of Havana – or better still, with this sleek recording – within an ornately decorated baroque auditorium in Cuba.
The high finish of this music is admirable, and it pervades in the unconventional routes that this music traverses. There is vigour and spiritedness in the quick numbers – well in place, for example, in the outer movements of Tumbao and Tempera. The Yoruba heartbeat Cuban music is magnificently explored on the mighty chanting by Lazaro Amed Hierrezuelo Zumeta, on Iya Mi Ile on which the harmonic and rhythmic skill of these musicians is [also] on brilliant display for all to experience.
The aforementioned chart is the apogee of this recording – not only because of the naturalness of the playing, but also because the fusion of the spiritual and the secular is impeccably attained. That being said, there is no doubt that the music throughout is uniformly well performed – from the arrangements that are polished and hearteningly authentic. Questing vocals by Ricardo Luque, Lazaro Amed Hierrezuelo Zumeta, and by Grarijela Galant Jelenic, Mariajan Jelenic and Dean Vitasovic [who comprise the vocal group NOLA] complete the freethinking and adventurous nature of this inspired Afro-Cuban music.
Tracks – 1: Tumbao; 2: Ljubav, samo ljubav; 3: Son Veinte; 4: Lijepa si danas; 5: Krumpira; 6: Bailando cha cha cha; 7: Iya Mi Ile; 8: P.P. Club Blue Cha Cha; 9: Tempera; 10: Dani u Havani
Musicians – Ricardo Luque: vocals and chorus; Hrvoje Rupcic: conga [solo 1, 8], percussion and chorus; Davor Križic: trumpet [soli 1 – 3, 10]; Neno Grahovac: trombone [soli 1, 9, 10] and chorus; Mario Igrec: guitar [soli 6, 8, 10]; Mario Penton Hernández: piano [solo 2], keyboards and chorus; Kresimir Tomec: bass and baby bass; Zdravko Tabain: drums [solo 1]; Mladen Ilic: bongos [solo 1] and percussion [solo 10]; Lazaro Amed Hierrezuelo Zumeta: timbales [soli 1, 8], percussion, [lead vocals 7] and chorus. Jazz Orkestar HRT-a – Miro Kadoic [flute soli 3, 7; alto saxophone solo 10], Mihael Gyorek [flute solo 7], Mario Bocic [tenor saxophone solo 10], Vojkan Jocic [tenor saxophone solo 8]and Damir Horvat: saxophones [baritone saxophone solo 6], flutes and clarinets; Antonio Gezek, Darko Sedak Bencic [trumpet solo 3] or Zvonimir Bajevic, Davor Križic and Marko Solman: trumpets; Marin Ferketin or Miron Hauser [arrangement 5], Zvonko Kosak, Luka Zužic and Jure Urek: trombones. Special Guest – NOLA: Grarijela Galant Jelenic: [lead] vocal; Mariajan Jelenic: backing vocals; Dean Vitasovic: backing vocals
Released – 2022
Label – Aquarius Records [CD 652-20]
Runtime – 52:21
YouTube Audio Playlist – Cubismo & Jazz Orkestar HRT-a – Tumbao
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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