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David Virelles Presents: Gnosis

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David Virelles - Gnosis

The pianist David Virelles came to New York via Santiago de Cuba and Toronto. Along the way his vocation as a musician has unfolded in dramatic fashion – so dramatic, in fact, some might say use the word “miraculous”; although “supernatural-existentialist” might be more appropriate, given the results of Gnosis, his 2017 recording on ECM. It is not so curious a phenomenon, considering, firstly: the fact that Mr Virelles is of Afro-Cuban descent and secondly: that he is under the spell – so to speak – of one of the high-priests (literally) of the Lucumi practice, Román Díaz. Anyone who leaps out of this backdrop is guaranteed to have a heady brew coursing through his veins. Gnosis proves this quite beyond the semblance of reasonable doubt.

Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Gnosis

In terms borrowed from another elevated realm, Buddhism, Mr Virelles may be said to have arrived rapidly at the doorstep of the portal nirvana and this music – these sixteen virtually ritual-sounding “meditations” would appear to have ushered him into that rarefied realm – musically speaking, first of all; and (why not?) perhaps even spiritually speaking. This would preclude the fact that the music in Gnosis is going to be difficult to access for the simple listener; even for the relatively “enlightened” one too. And, indeed, it is. It is not a cloudy concoction of amorphous melodic herbs and harmonic spices, poured into some kind of ancient grail, swirled and beaten rhythmically with the help of enchanted beads and necklaces, sticks and divination rods and coded handclaps. But in the atmospheric mist of Western musical instruments and African ones played, principally by Román Díaz and Mauricio Herrera, David Virelles emerges as the initiate in a La Regla de Ifá (service).

Usually, when an initiate goes through such ritualistic intensity, a great deal of the experience might revert to the subconscious, to emerge only when summoned at a celebration similar to this La Regla de Ifá service. Remarkably, however, in the case of David Virelles he is able to summon all of this experience into the forefront of his memory, so much so that the enchantment has metamorphosed into grist for his music. Román Díaz’s narrative such as the one describes in his note about the Carabalí ceremony appears to overrun the solo piano work on “De Coral” almost as magically as it does on music where the chanting does sound, together with Afro-Cuban coro and the call-and-response in some of the repertoire with Melvis Santa and Mauricio Herrera.

In terms of a milestone in the musical journey of David Virelles, Gnosis is probably the most significant one to date. It points towards Africa; but not merely in the sense of returning to the womb of all wombs of the mother of all mothers of all humanity, although that, in itself, would be a significant place to be for a musician. However, it’s more than likely that Mr Virelles appears to have seen the equivalent of the proverbial “blue light” and he has lived to tell us about it. Now there’s no telling where his music will take us next.

Track List: 1: Del Tabaco Y El Azúcar; 2: Fitití Ñongo; 3: Lengua I; 4: Erume Kondó; 5: Benkomo; 6: Tierra; 7: De Ida Y Vuelta I; 8: Lengua II; 9: De Ida Y Vuelta II; 10: Nuná; 11: Epílogo; 12: Dos; 13: Caracola; 14: Visiones Sonoras; 15: De Portal; 16: De Tres; 17: De Cuando Era Chiquita…; 18: De Coral.

Personnel: David Virelles with Román Díaz and the Nosotros Ensemble. David Virelles: piano, marímbula; Román Díaz: lead vocals and percussion (bonkó enchemiyá, ekón, nkomos, erikundi, itones, nkaniká, marímbula, claves, mayohuacán, pilón, carapacho de jicotea, coconut shells); Allison Loggins-Hull: piccolo, flute; Rane Moore: clarinet, bass clarinet; Adam Cruz: percussion (steel pan, claves); Alex Lipowski: percussion (orchestral bass drum, temple blocks, bongos, gong); Matthew Gold: percussion (marimba, glockenspiel); Mauricio Herrera: percussion (ekón, nkomos, erikundi, claves); Thomas Morgan: double bass; Yunior Lopez: viola; Christine Chen: violoncello; Samuel DeCaprio: violoncello; Melvis Santa, David Virelles and Mauricio Herrera: background vocals.

Released: 2017
Label: ECM
Runtime: 53:22

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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