It takes probably three or four bars into the first song, “Scorpio,” on pianist Donald Vega’s Resonance album Spiritual Nature for a magical spell to unfold. This is not the spell of an exhibitionist on a dimly-lit stage that recalls a Houdini or some Eastern Pasha; rather it is an entrancing recital by one of the most elegant and intellectually astounding pianists of today. For this is who the Nicaraguan-born, New York-based virtuoso, Donald Vega really is. Remarkably steeped in the modal tradition Vega has made the proverbial explosive entry into the scene, rejuvenating it as he does with a vortex bursting with a bubbling energy as well as the deep and joyful emotion of his own spiritual masters from Thelonious and Herbie Hancock to John Coltrane. Vega might cringe at being spoken of in the same breath as The Masters, but it is true. Listening to him, being mesmerised by the utter elegance and beauty as well as by the singularity and depth of his genius lends credence to this assumption.
Donald Vega is one of those rare musicians with musical voice that is born in a constant state of wonder, brought to maturation almost at the moment of his musical birth like a proverbial Confucius with what seems to be ancient-modern wisdom. His technique is absolutely sublime. It would seem that his fingers are aglow with the rare nervous energy that propels them on the keys in a perpetual motion that is able to stroke the keys in such a masterly fashion that he makes each note sing gloriously; each phrase tells a beguiling story so that his soli are filled with surprising nooks and crannies. Thus his music is a constant voyage of discovery even in the most simple of melodies. Vega turns musical sentences inside out; he might begin in the middle of a phrase or approach one from an angle that is so acute that no other musician would dare reach such forbidden depths.
Such a wondrous episode may be experienced throughout the unfolding of the humble offering of “Spiritual Nature”. This is a track that is deceptively simple, but as it begins, seemingly in the middle of a moving and bluish phrase, Vega hands off to the saxophonist Bob Sheppard who twists and turns the gorgeous melody in all manner of spaces before handing it over to Vega who weaves the magic that he has been blest with into a hypnotic musical tapestry. The intensity of the piece builds at his hands then softens at those of Sheppard’s saxophone which is accompanied by the colourful voicings of Bob McChesney’s trombone. These horn-men are not the only ones who keep pace with Vega’s ingenious musical plan. Violinist Christian Howes is outstanding on “River” as is guitarist Anthony Wilson on “Accompong” as he and Vega carry on a conversation at breakneck speed. But Vega’s rare artistry is best experienced on a series of tracks from “Future Child” through “Falando De Amor” to Benny Golson’s classic chart, “I Remember Clifford”. Throughout he is also held up high by the majestic playing of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash.
The depth of Vega’s genius is something that is memorable not only for the supernatural virtuosity he displays throughout his solo sojourns, but also for the manner in with he lets his emotions out as he play. Thus Donald Vega draws his listeners in to his epic musical odyssey; one which traverses through time and space until it spins on a note that ends in an aching tribute to the master trumpeter that ends this wondrous session.
Tracks: Scorpion; First Trip; River; Spiritual Nature; Accompong; Future Child; You Never Tell Me Anything; Contemplation; Etude Opus 8, #2; Falando De Amor; Child’s Play; I Remember Clifford.
Personnel: Donald Vega: piano, Rhodes; Christian McBride: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Anthony Wilson: guitar; Christian Howes: violin; Bob Sheppard: saxophone; Gilbert Castellanos: trumpet; Bob McChesney: trombone.
Label: Resonance Records | Release date: August 2012
Sample track: Scorpion
About Donald Vega
Classically-trained in his native Nicaragua, Vega emigrated to the United States at age 14 and began learning the language of jazz from mentor Billy Higgins at The World Stage and later with bassist John Clayton at the University of Southern California. He went on to graduate from Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School where he studied with piano great, Kenny Barron. Vega currently performs internationally as the pianist for world renowned bassist Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio.
Vega’s debut album, Tomorrows, was released in 2008 to rave reviews. In his sophomore album, Spiritual Nature, he is joined by the rhythm section of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash, where he explores the marriage of jazz, Latin and classical music. Spiritual Nature was released on the Resonance Records label August 2012. It stayed at the top of the jazz charts for several weeks, reaching all the way to #1.
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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