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Desandann: ¡Pwan Dife! (Light The Flame!)

Thanks to their greatest champions outside Cuba, Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer, the extraordinary ten-person vocal ensemble, Desandann has returned after a decade with their second, spell-binding album, ¡Pwan Dife! (Light The Flame!). The album was recorded on the back of Bunnett’s brilliant, Juno award-winning album Embracing Voices, (EMI/Sunnyside Records, 2008) […]

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Thanks to their greatest champions outside Cuba, Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer, the extraordinary ten-person vocal ensemble, Desandann has returned after a decade with their second, spell-binding album, ¡Pwan Dife! (Light The Flame!), which features Jane Bunnett and Pablosky Rosale. The album was recorded on the back of Bunnett’s brilliant, Juno award-winning album Embracing Voices, (EMI/Sunnyside Records, 2008), which was set around the ensemble as they played counterpoint to Bunnett’s soaring flute and soprano saxophone. While Bunnett’s album was a slight departure for Desandann and explored the soulful and twirling mixture of jazz and Afro-Haitian sounds, ¡Pwan Dife! returns the group to the aural landscape that celebrates the legacy of Haitian music in Spanish and Creole.

The repertoire on the album gives free rein to the human voice and the celestial manner in which the soaring soprano voices meld with the altos and the earthy colors tumble down as the tenors enrich the vocal canvas. Then there are the riveting basses that weave the vocal tapestry together with the clear growl of command. Together the fine female and fine male voices navigate the dense harmonies and intricate intertwining call-and-response and contrapuntal structures with perfect control of emotion and musicality that sets Desandann apart from any vocal group in any form of music today. Their fluid orchestrations throughout may even make chamber and symphonic choral groups blush with envy.

Although best experienced live where their physical presence casts a hypnotic spell on the rapt audience, their vocal gymnastics conjure the slow grind of hips and swaying bodies as if they were in the room itself. The earthy echoes of percussion woven together with hand-claps on classic renditions of “Sinbi,” “Papa Danbala” and “Tande” pulsate to the rhythm of the heart-beat. On the latter, Pablosky takes a stellar turn with a truly memorable tres-guitar solo that burrows into the mind’s inner ear and delights the senses. Just how much can be achieved with a mere four strings by Rosale’s unbridled versatility and soul-stirring emotion is a wonder each time he makes an appearance, no matter how brief. On the prancing, “Baila el cha cha cha” Jane Bunnett returns the favor with some celestial pyrotechnics on flute as she returns the favor that Desandann bestowed upon Embracing Voices.

The album also features two memorable rendition of classic repertoire: “Les Feuilles Mortes,” better known in its many English incarnations as “Autumn Leaves.” Desandann turn Serge Gainsbourg and Joseph Cosma’s classic into a timeless piece of pitch-perfect music. The harmonic leaps here are outstanding and serve as a reminder of how fresh an old song can be remade once infused by genius. The other surprise is “Unforgettable,” a song made famous by Nat “King” Cole. On their hair-raising version, Desandann breathes the softest of emotions into the lyrics as they unfold with not a dry eye in the house. Despite the even brilliance of the album there might just be a case to single out “Homanaj a Soley: Suite in 5” for the sheer mesmerism of the voices as they navigate complex changes in rhythm.

¡Pwan Dife! is an important addition to the literature of vocal music in any idiom or cultural Diaspora. This is an album that deserves repeated listening as it pushes the boundaries of harmonic excellence into a virtually supernatural realm.

Tracks: 1. Ou Pa Nan Chay; 2. Sinbi; 3. Papa Danbala; 4. Tande; 5. Baila el cha cha cha; 6. Tripita en la Habana; 7. Les Feuilles Mortes; 8. Se Lamu; 9. Tripot; 10. Kadja Boswa; 11. Morasa Elu; 12. Homanaj a Soley: 13. Suite in 5; 14. Unforgettable.

Personnel: Emilia Diaz Chá: alto soloist; Marina Collazo Ferná: alto soloist; Teresita Romero Miranda: alto soloist, arranger; Yordá Sanchez Fajardo: soprano soloist; Irian Rondó Montejo: soprano soloist; Angel Suá Pé: tenor soloist; Fidel Romero Miranda: tenor soloist, percussion; Marcelo André Luis: bass soloist, arranger, percussion; Dalio Arce Vital: bass soloist, percussion; Rogelio Rodriguez Torriente: bass soloist, percussion; Special Guests: Jane Bunnett: soprano saxophone, flute; Pablosky Rosale: tres guitar.

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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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